Hezbollah in control of Lebanon’s two branches of power

To withstand US sanctions against it, Hezbollah is purposely and diligently linking Lebanon’s economy, finances and security to its own survival.
Sunday 04/11/2018
Billboards from Hezbollah’s Committee for the Support of the Islamic Resistance on display on the Beirut airport highway. (AP)
All roads lead to Hezbollah. Billboards from Hezbollah’s Committee for the Support of the Islamic Resistance on display on the Beirut airport highway. (AP)

During the commemoration of the 1983 bombing of the US Marine Barracks in Beirut, US President Donald Trump signed a bill sanctioning the Lebanese Hezbollah.

The measure classifies Hezbollah as a criminal organisation and places sanctions on individuals and private institutions that deal with it. More than that, the law allows the US president to bring sanctions against official government institutions and countries dealing with Hezbollah without prior congressional approval.

The bill was passed after a series of resolutions and measures previously issued against Hezbollah within the context of laying siege to the party’s funding sources and before the implementation of the second package of sanctions on Iran, which go into effect in November.

The new law also comes while Hezbollah is trying to clamp down on the yet-to-be-formed Lebanese government following May’s general election. Let’s not forget that Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, commander of al-Quds Force, declared Hezbollah and its allies were the winners of the elections.

Despite the many difficulties that hampered the formation of a new government, the process seems to have reached a conclusion. The prospective ministerial equation seems to have given Hezbollah a comfortable share of cabinet posts that would allow it to control the new government and prevent any government decision that would not be in line with Hezbollah’s wishes and desires.

In this context, it can be said that, from a political and constitutional point of view, Hezbollah is for all intents and purposes in control of the two branches of power in Lebanon. The party controls parliament through Speaker Nabih Berri, who abides by the rules of his alliance with Hezbollah. Hezbollah controls the executive branch through its ally President Michel Aoun and its majority in the new cabinet.

Hezbollah relied on military and security power to reach enough sway over the constitutional institutions that allow it to complete its territorial control of Lebanon. Such a phenomenal result places the country in the path of the train of US sanctions. It is hard to see how the United States could implement its sanctions unless the decision had already been made not to hesitate in bringing down the edifice on all in Lebanon.

The very nature of the US sanctions places the entire Lebanese government and most Lebanese institutions in the crosshairs of potential economic penalties. Hezbollah has infiltrated all those institutions and more. The party has members employed everywhere in the institutions and controls scores of municipal councils, which necessarily have dealings with these official institutions.

Rolling US sanctions against Hezbollah have squeezed it financially and forced it to seek refuge in the state. The party is undoubtedly suffering financially because of direct American sanctions or indirectly because of the sanctions against Iran.

So the party switched strategies and entrenched itself in the Lebanese institutions but not to the extent of agreeing to the principle of operating within and by the rules of the state. The party simply took advantage of the administrative and financial chaos in Lebanon to cover its costs and deficits.

Hezbollah has placed thousands of its followers in the so-called municipal police force, which is funded by tax revenues. Similarly, it made the Lebanese Ministry of Health and the Lebanese social security agencies fund — to the tune of millions of dollars — its clinics, which are dedicated primarily to providing health care to Hezbollah members and fighters. Those clinics used to be funded by Iran and other countries.

Not content with entrenching itself in state institutions, Hezbollah used its connections to facilitate Lebanese ports for smuggling merchandise that unscrupulous traders sell for huge profits, giving the party its cut. Hezbollah also oversees the Lebanese border with Syria and thus controls a network for smuggling legal and illegal goods.

It must be pointed out that, to withstand US sanctions against it, Hezbollah is purposely and diligently linking Lebanon’s economy, finances and security to its own survival. The party never fails to mention indirectly that it controls the inner workings of the Lebanese state and that targeting it will inevitably cause the demise of state institutions in Lebanon.

Despite this risk, Hezbollah persists in rejecting advice from some Lebanese officials and claimed ministerial portfolios for its officials, without giving a second thought to the consequences on the country.

Now there is the spectre of US sanctions hovering over Lebanon. Hezbollah knows it succeeded in placing all Lebanese in the path of the US sanctions. The party knows that Washington does not take ideological or reprisal considerations in its policies but acts on purely pragmatic bases.

Hezbollah on the other hand, like Iran, considers power and influence more important, ideology being a tool for attracting members. So, any possible agreement, be it implicit with Israel or explicit between Washington and Tehran, that will not take this power away from it would certainly be welcomed by Hezbollah.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to Oman and Iran’s cold but implicitly welcoming reactions reveal that the Iranian regime is willing to accommodate Israeli interests to mitigate the effects of the US sanctions against it and preserve its influence in Arab countries and Lebanon. Netanyahu’s visit to Muscat on the eve of US sanctions on Tehran was an Iranian message to the Arabs.