The not-so-trivial pursuit of Hezbollah

Hezbollah continues to disregard the economic challenges and persists in investing in its own infrastructure of offensive tunnels into Israel as well as missile factories.
Sunday 16/12/2018
Hidden depths. Lebanese President Michel Aoun (L) whispers to Prime Minister Saad Hariri during a military parade in downtown Beirut, last November. (AP)
Hidden depths. Lebanese President Michel Aoun (L) whispers to Prime Minister Saad Hariri during a military parade in downtown Beirut, last November. (AP)

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist, a quote credited to French essayist and poet Charles Baudelaire, that accurately depicts Hezbollah’s role in derailing the formation of the Lebanese cabinet, a process that has stalled since May.

Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s pursuit to form the government has been an uphill battle ostensibly plagued with the refusal of the many factions to compromise over certain portfolios, ones they deem crucial to maintaining their clientelist provisions. However, this horse trading and imagined obstacles mask the fact that Hezbollah is the main impediment to this simple governance measure.

Hezbollah, similar to the devil’s actions, convinced part of the Lebanese public that it is uninterested in partaking in the corrupt acts of government and that its participation in cabinets was done out of national duty rather than political expediency.

Consequently, Hezbollah permitted its main Christian ally, President Michael Aoun’s party, the Free Patriotic Movement, to conjure up arbitrary conditions, starting with what became known as the Druze complex and later a Maronite one, all with the intentions of weakening an already feeble Hariri.

Once these trivial hitches were presumably resolved, Hezbollah introduced a new hurdle by demanding the inclusion of a pro-Assad Sunni minister representing a makeshift parliamentary bloc whose members were relics of Syrian hegemony before 2005.

Hariri, who was so close to announcing his cabinet, categorically refused Hezbollah’s curveball, which, above all, wanted to embarrass him in front of the international community and Gulf states that are alarmed at Iran’s unmitigated control over Lebanon.

Constitutionally as prime minister-designate, Hariri has full authority to refuse Hezbollah’s bullying or even Aoun’s. The post-war Taif Agreement grants him that prerogative and does not specify a time limit for his mission.

Subsequently, Hariri’s defiance saw Hezbollah unleash one of its sinister mouthpieces, Wiam Wahhab, whose verbal attack included Hariri’s late father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Wahhab’s reckless — yet calculated — act incited sectarian tensions and Sunnis took to the streets to show support for Hariri.

Having failed to achieve its goal, Hezbollah pressured Aoun, who declared that he would turn to the parliament to revoke Hariri’s commission, a threat he did not carry out. Aoun’s sacrilegious and erroneous reading of the constitution was a manoeuvre to pressure Hariri, who, in his unwavering stance, refused to grant the so-called independent Sunni MPs an audience.

Despite the imaginative suggestions to resolve the standoff over the government by expanding or greatly reducing its number, the task does not seem to be an easy matter to resolve and will only happen after Hezbollah and its allies get the following concessions.

Hezbollah needs Hariri to grant it implicit assurances that he will not fully cooperate with the Trump administration on enforcing sanctions on Iran and its network of operators. Perhaps this process of wishful thinking by Hezbollah wrongfully presumes that the US administration will not impose sanctions on Lebanon because Beirut receives considerable US aid for its armed forces and is deemed too valuable to the stability of the region.

More important, Hezbollah wishes to publicly discuss the amendment of the constitution and the Taif Agreement through which the system would be divided to three factions — Christian, Sunni and Shia — rather than the existing bipolar Muslim-Christian arrangement. Such a system has no political implications for Hezbollah, which is not really interested in pursuing politics the sake of politics but because it virtually grants Hezbollah veto power crucial to protect and legitimise its military activity.

Leaving the ruckus of the government formation aside, what could Hariri’s cabinet do to rescue Lebanon and its failing economy? When Hariri went to the CEDRE economic aid conference last April, he asked for funds to overhaul Lebanon’s non-existent infrastructure and to stimulate the economy, one that is doomed unless all local factions come together and provide a tranquil political environment to attract investors.

Hezbollah, however, continues to disregard the economic challenges and persists in investing in its own infrastructure of offensive tunnels into Israel as well as missile factories it intends to use in its next conflict with Israel.

The tunnels, which were recently exposed by the Israelis, go beyond embarrassing the Lebanese government for not abiding by UN Security Council Resolution 1701 but affirm that no forthcoming cabinet can derail or convince Hezbollah to abandon its devilish suicidal venture.

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