The recent elections have not changed the balance of power in Lebanon. Everyone knows that Hezbollah dominates decision-making in the country and the proof is that it never commits to the “policy of dissociating” the country from the region’s crises.
The regional arena and international developments following Trump’s decision on the nuclear deal with Iran has raised plenty of questions as to how Lebanon and its new government, which will probably be headed by Saad Hariri, will deal with various issues — primarily those pertaining to Syrian refugees, the country’s relations with the Syrian regime, the stance towards Iran’s activities in the region and the implementation of the conditions of the Cedar Conference.
Hariri’s stance against Syrian regime
President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil have repeatedly said it is important that Syrian refugees return to Syria. Hariri agrees to the principle that they must return to Syria, but only when the security situation is conducive for their return. At a meeting in Brussels, Hariri asked the international community to help Lebanon bear this burden.
The Syrian regime wants Hariri to negotiate this matter with it and wants to force him into giving up his stance against talking with Bashar al-Assad. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem visited New York and asked his Lebanese counterpart, who did not hesitate to meet him without getting an approval from the cabinet and the prime minister first, not to say that it’s important to negotiate with the Syrian regime regarding the issue of the refugees and to leave this task for Hariri to force him to speak with the regime.
The Syrian regime wants Hariri to negotiate with it and wants to force him to give up his stance against talking with Bashar al-AssadRanda Takieddine
So will Hariri, if he heads the government that will include several ministers affiliated with Hezbollah, negotiate with a regime that’s fighting with its Sunni citizens, displacing them and forcing them to become refugees in neighboring countries? Before killing its Sunni citizens, the Syrian regime has killed plenty of Lebanese figures of whom the most important was its Sunni leader Rafiq Hariri.
There is no doubt that addressing the issue of ties with the Syrian regime will be one of the most difficult matters that Hariri will confront because Bassil, who aspires to succeed his father-in-law, will stand with Hezbollah, the actual decision maker in this case, which never cared about the government’s dissociation policy.
In addition, how will Hariri confront the threat of escalation between Hezbollah and Israel after Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal and if Iran escalates its destructive activities in the region, from Syria, Yemen to Lebanon, via Hezbollah? After winning in the elections, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said Beirut is part of “the Resistance.”
Meanwhile, an Israeli official said after elections ended that “Lebanon meant Hezbollah” – as if this harmonizes with Hezbollah’s stance. If Israel continues to escalate the situation with Iran in Syria, the question will be: Will Iran drag Hezbollah to involve Lebanon in a war since Nasrallah thinks Beirut stands for the “Resistance”? It’s not in Hezbollah’s interest to open another front in Lebanon but it may find itself forced to do so to serve its Iranian guardian.
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Will the 2006 scenario repeat in Lebanon? In this case, the promises made at the Cedar Conference will come to an end. However, when it comes to the economic aspect, the Lebanese president — like the prime minister — showed he wants the path of the Cedar Conference to succeed, unlike Hezbollah and its media outlets which have been skeptical about it.
Hariri has an ally in this matter, the president and his governing family – although Bassil’s ambition to become a president makes him stand with Nasrallah all the time as seen in the statements he made during the electoral campaign.
The results of Lebanon’s elections did not carry huge surprises but they raise plenty of questions during a very critical period of time in the Middle East considering there is a confrontation between the Iranian regime and its proxy Hezbollah, which are destabilizing the region, and an impulsive American president and his Israeli allies. We pray to God that what’s next is not worse for a region that has been enduring many wars and destruction.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Randa Takieddine is a Lebanese writer and the director of Al-Hayat newspaper office in Paris.