At Iran’s behest, Hezbollah undermines Macron’s initiative in Lebanon

Lebanese political sources said this leaves the prime minister-designate with just one option, and that is to tender his resignation to the president.
Wednesday 16/09/2020
A file picture shows head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc Mohamed Raad (3rd L), accompanied with his parliamentary bloc, walks as he enters the presidential palace in Baabda, near Beirut. (REUTERS)
A file picture shows head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc Mohamed Raad (3rd L), accompanied with his parliamentary bloc, walks as he enters the presidential palace in Baabda, near Beirut. (REUTERS)

BEIRUT – On Tuesday, Hezbollah torpedoed the French initiative led by President Emmanuel Macron in Lebanon to form a mini-government that includes experts from outside political parties.

The task of undermining the French initiative fell to MP Mohamed Raad, head of Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc, during his meeting with President Michel Aoun at Baabda Palace.

In the meeting, which was summoned by Aoun as part of consultations to prepare for the formation of a Lebanese government, Raad emphasised that Hezbollah insisted that the finance minister be Shia and that the Shia ministers in the new government headed by Mustapha Adib be nominated by the two Shia parties, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement.

Lebanese political sources said that Hezbollah’s position, generally believed to have been instigated by Iran, leaves the prime minister-designate with just one option -- to tender his resignation to the president due to his inability to form a government.

The president had called, in clear violation of the Lebanese constitution, for Lebanese factions to hold consultations at Baabda Palace in order to form a new government headed by Adib.

Lebanese politicians saw this as a clear assault on the powers of the prime minister-designate. They indicated that the Lebanese constitution explicitly stipulates that consultations should be conducted by the prime minister in charge of forming a government who later submits a list of the members of the proposed government to the president. Under the constitution, the president can make observations about the government formation and can also refuse to sign the decree forming the new government.

It was noteworthy that Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri announced a few days ago their readiness to “cooperate” to form a Lebanese government in which parties would not be represented. But Berri, who heads the Amal movement, quickly reversed his position, calling for the finance minister to be from the Shia community.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned France on Tuesday that its efforts to resolve the crisis in Lebanon could be wasted if the issue of arming the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group was not dealt with immediately.

The United States considers Hezbollah a terrorist organisation, but France believes that the party can be dealt with as "an existing reality" in Lebanon.

The United States last week expanded its Lebanon-related sanctions by blacklisting two former ministers, accusing them of aiding Hezbollah. This raised questions about the extent of coordination between the United States and France at a time when the Lebanese factions are facing difficulties in agreeing to form a new government.

“We are going to act in a way – and we have acted in a way – that will prevent Iran from being able to purchase Chinese tanks and Russian air defence systems and resell weapons to Hezbollah to undermine the very efforts that President Macron is ably trying to lead in Lebanon,” Pompeo told France Inter radio.

“It’s irreconcilable that you would permit Iran to have more money, more wealth, and more arms, and still be working to try and help disconnect Hezbollah from the disaster that they have created inside of Lebanon” he added.

On his September 1 visit to Lebanon, one month after a devastating explosion in the port of Beirut, Macron said that Lebanese politicians had agreed to form a new government by the fifteenth of September, which is an ambitious date given that this process in Lebanon usually takes months.

French officials said the priority was to form a government that could quickly implement reforms, while the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons was not urgent.

French newspaper Le Figaro reported in August that Macron had met with Mohamed Raad, head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, and told him that the group should distance itself from Iran and withdraw its forces from Syria.

The French presidency did not deny that the meeting, the first between a French leader and a member of Hezbollah, had taken place.

“It is a double-edged sword for Macron,” a French diplomatic source said. “Hezbollah is part of the core of the ruling system that needs to be changed, and I am not sure that it would be possible to deal with the political wing of Hezbollah without dealing with its armed wing as well.”

Another French diplomat said the French initiative had always carried risks. “The danger has always been that you tell them that is enough, but they do nothing. What would happen then?” he added.