For over a year the Lebanese waited anxiously for their political elite to form a new cabinet, one which would theoretically implement structural reforms and guide Lebanon out of its abysmal crisis.
Earlier this month, Prime Minster designee Najib Mikati was finally successful in convincing Lebanese president Michael Aoun of a cabinet lineup, or so it was made to appear. In reality, regional and international factors, primarily French and Iranian efforts, and American consent, were the driving force which allowed Mikati to head his third cabinet, having previously formed one in both 2005 and 2011.
While the government formation has been viewed by many as a win for the Iranian axis, Iran and its allies have yet to declare any real victory. If one is to objectively review all the challenges and factors at play, Iran and Hezbollah have bite off far more than they can chew, and perhaps, more importantly, the euphoria surrounding this so-called settlement is truly unwarranted given that Lebanon is far from economic or political salvation.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s famous initiative following the August 4 Beirut Port blast was anchored around the formation of a mission government, composed of non-partisan qualified individuals, capable of driving through structural reform which would allow Lebanon to get access to funds and loans from the international community, starting with a $10 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund-IMF.
However, Macron’s pledge to help Lebanon was derailed by his own interests in engaging Iran and its newly-elected President Ibrahim Raisi, with the ultimate aim of reaping the economic benefits of a modified nuclear deal. Consequently, Macron mobilized Bernard Emié, the Director of the General Directorate for External Security and former ambassador to Lebanon, to iron out the details of the settlement, giving Iran and its Lebanese lackeys everything they demanded – including the veto power in cabinet.
Macron’s misguided settlement was naturally sanctioned by the Biden administration, whose disastrous Afghanistan departure clearly indicates the administration’s willingness to allow Iran and its partners to increase its regional expansion project in a similar manner to its operations during the Obama years.
While Mikati’s government to the outside comes out as a triumphant victory to Iran, it is no different from many of the so-called Iranian victories in the region. In Syria, Iraq and Yemen, Iran has declared imaginary victories and ignored the fact that what the West has actually done is to leave it to clean its own mess, an experience which has proved time and again as fruitless as it is counterproductive.
Najib Mikati’s claim to fame came in 2005 where he led a transitional government following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, at a time when the international community, but more so the Arabian Gulf states, were careful to provide Lebanon with patronage and, more importantly, a financial safety net. Consequently, Mikati saw parliamentary elections through while ensuring that all sides of the political spectrum were relatively satisfied. As it stands, 2021 is an entirely different scenario to 2005, with both Mikati and his new patron Macron incapable of providing a cash injection to Lebanon that would make any real difference. Meanwhile, a reinvigorated Iran, and by extension its regional proxies, will continue to fail at any meaningful economic and social fabric reconstruction of the same nations they helped destroy.
Lebanon and the Mikati government have two financial bailout options, one includes an arduous IMF roadmap, full of demands and reforms, while the second is the Arabian Gulf, a set of countries unlikely to bankroll a Hezbollah-dominated government even if it has received the blessing of both Macron and Biden.
The lukewarm Arabian Gulf response is fully justified given that Iran is careful not to miss any chance to remind everyone that it is in occupation of Lebanon. Almost a week after Mikati announced his cabinet, Hezbollah paraded its convoy of 80 tanker truck filled with Iranian diesel, claiming that this so-called act of resistance was a challenge to the siege of the West and the Arabian Gulf has mandated over Lebanon.
In reality, Hezbollah was running a reverse smuggling operation as this Iranian oil entered Lebanon without paying any tax and will be sold to the Lebanese at market price, with the returns used to finance Hezbollah. To add insult to injury, neither Mikati nor any member of the Lebanese political establishment condemned Hezbollah’s truck charade, with Mikati merely commenting “the violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty makes me sad.”
Mikati’s sadness means nothing to anyone who is already aware of the fact that the billionaire’s fancy suits and diplomatic demeanor will not be enough to convince the real stakeholders in Lebanon’s recovery that the cabinet holds the reins of power, or that wise economic and political reform can stand up to the axis of smuggling which Hezbollah so insolently flaunts.
The weary and depleted Lebanese, desperately queuing for fuel, medicine and even bread, have every right to hope for a better future, yet famine and Iranian occupation should never be celebrated as true salvation.
However, one wishes to look at it, Mikati is no different from his predecessors who were unwilling to take responsibility nor admit that their wheeler dealer mentality cannot pass for statecraft. Iran and its Lebanese militia alongside Macron can claim all the victories they want, but this will not change the fact that Lebanon at this stage is unfixable.