By Maria Maalouf and Bryan E. Leib
July 30, 2021
As Lebanon gravitates more toward a quagmire after the failure of Saad Al Harriri to form a government, the chances for its recovery are slim. Iran stands to benefit the most from this paralysis. Hezbollah is exploiting the current government stalemate to throw Lebanon into further turmoil. There is an Iranian occupation of Lebanon now. This must end.
The whole Middle East is familiar with Iran’s power projection strategy. Iraq, Syria, and Yemen are vivid examples of Iran’s imperial disposition. Even in Egypt after the overthrow of President Mubarak in 2011, Tehran wanted to form an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood. Their plans backfired because of the armed forces intervention in 2013. Egypt as a large Sunni nation resented the advances of Shiite Iran. Lebanon has been the victim of losing billions of dollars importing unnecessary commodities like medicines from Iran. Iran through many of its Shiite allies has been buying land and properties in Lebanon. Many Lebanese are suspicious of Iran.
The genesis of the contemporary government collapse began on October 17, 2019. Discontent led to demonstrations forcing Al Hariri to resign. The second date is October 22, 2020, when Al Hariri was asked to form a government again. The time span between these two dates witnessed the explosion at Beirut Port on August 4, 2020. Shortly after, the French President Emmanuel Macron paid two visits to Lebanon and called for national unity. Two subsequent governments failed.
The Maronite Patriarch Beshara Al Raii was not able to reconcile President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Al Hariri. On July 15, 2021, Al Hariri declared his intention not to form a government.
Two political trends in Lebanon are hampering its political performance. The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) is led by the President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law Gibran Basil. It is made up mostly of Christians, but it is an ally of Hezbollah through the March 8 Alliance. The Future Movement is mostly Sunni and was formed in 1995 by Rafik Al Hariri. The FPM’s strong ties with Hezbollah has in turn allowed the Party of God to play kingmaker in Lebanon.
Hezbollah does not want to risk its alliance with Aoun and Basil. These two politicians are in collusion with Hezbollah to make it the hegemon in Lebanon. Hezbollah strives to prolong any political stalemate such as the current one
With the recent news of billionaire Najib Mikati being appointed as prime minister-designate, Hezbollah is certainly very happy. After all, the reports state it was Hezbollah who nominated Mikati. If Mikati successfully forms a government, this would be his third stint as Lebanon’s prime minister. The priority for the incoming government is stopping the financial collapse through a bailout agreement with the IMF and other government reforms. Some analysts say no matter how decent, powerful, and influential the prime minister is, he will not be able to do anything because of his allegiance to Hezbollah and the track record of being part of the problems in Lebanon.
It will be important to watch how the Biden Administration reacts to this move because they might not be willing to pressure Hezbollah as long as they are negotiating with Iran over reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. Another major player in Lebanon, France, is not pushing for reform in Lebanon either. They have their own interests in developing closer ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Offending Hezbollah can prevent them from improving relations with Iran.
There are many solutions to help Lebanon rise above the current situation. First is establishing an international consensus on Lebanon, and to convince France, the US and Saudi Arabia to agree on the size and scope of economic reform in Lebanon. Also, there is the endorsement of the formation of a new cabinet and the empowering of a new prime minister to institute reform.
Second, the Biden Administration must not condition its negotiations in Vienna with Iran with toleration of Hezbollah’s bad behavior in Lebanon. The pro-Iran media in Lebanon is heralding the news that any new agreement between Tehran and Washington will not affect Tehran’s ties with its militant militias. Washington should take a more comprehensive approach to the Iran file – focusing on nuclear and non-nuclear issues to avoid empowering Tehran’s proxies and partners.
Third, Hezbollah must be disarmed. The Lebanese Army should be backed and deployed in all of Lebanon’s territory to counter Iranian-backed Hezbollah. Fourth, the Lebanese government must also tackle corruption. Hezbollah defends this corruption with all of its might. These steps should allow the money that went abroad to be deposited again inside Lebanon.
Finally, the United Nations must activate Chapter 7 of its Charter that defines any country causing instability or threatening peace in any area in the world as deserving a punishable collective security action to stop it. The Islamic Republic of Iran should be held accountable for their actions in Lebanon.