News / Middle East

Lebanon Tribunal Likely First Test of New Hezbollah-led Government

New Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, speaks after the announcing of the new cabinet, at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, June 13, 2011
New Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, speaks after the announcing of the new cabinet, at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, June 13, 2011
Margaret Besheer

After five months of political horse-trading, Lebanon finally has a government, cementing Hezbollah’s political dominance over the tiny Mediterranean country. Analysts say the new government’s fortunes and longevity could be tied to those of neighboring Syria, one of the group’s main patrons, but its political ascendance is unlikely to cause any dramatic geopolitical shifts in the region. The new government’s first key test could be how it responds to possible indictments from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

The Shi'ite militant and political movement and its allies control 18 of 30 portfolios in the new cabinet, including key ministries such as Defense, Justice and Telecommunications.

Hezbollah has been a serious player on the Lebanese political scene for years, flexing its military muscle in a war with Israel in 2006 and challenging the pro-Western government during street battles in 2008.

In January, Hezbollah and its allies forced the collapse of Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government over the issue of the United Nations-backed tribunal which is investigating the death of Mr. Hariri’s father, the former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The elder Hariri and 22 others were killed in a massive truck bombing on the Beirut seafront in 2005. The tribunal is widely expected to issue indictments soon that could include Hezbollah members.

Paul Salem, the director of the Carnegie Endowment’s Middle East Center in Beirut, says the announcement will be a big political event in Lebanon if Hezbollah or Syrian officials, or security personnel are indicted.

“That will be a firestorm in itself, which the country as well as the government would have to deal with," said Salem. "That would be a very explosive and unpredictable set of events.”

Since Hezbollah and its allies toppled the previous government over the issue of the U.N. tribunal, analysts say it is unlikely the new government will authorize the continued payment of Lebanon’s 49 percent share of the court’s cost. They question whether there will be government pressure on the four Lebanese judges on the panel to quit. And there is also the issue of cooperation in handing over any possible indictees who reside in Lebanon.

Hezbollah-backed Prime Minister Najib Mikati has promised that Lebanon will respect its international commitments.  However, out-going Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar, who is part of Saad Hariri’s March 14 coalition, says he would be “very astonished” if the tribunal is included in the new cabinet’s policy statement, which lays out its agenda.

“The Hariri government has resigned or has been forced to resign because of the Tribunal and it would be really something unbelievable that the Tribunal would be a part of the new government’s commitments. I am sure it will not be," said Najjar.

But American University in Beirut political science professor Hillal Khashan argues that it probably will not matter who is in charge when the indictments are announced, because the end result will be the same.

“But there is a difference between announcing the indictments and acting upon them. Everybody knows that the Lebanese state is soft; everybody knows that the Lebanese government is incapable to take on Hezbollah, is incapable of apprehending Hezbollah members who are at-large," said Khashan. "So it does not really matter who is the prime minister: the behavior of Hezbollah vis-à-vis the government will be invariable.”

Carnegie’s Paul Salem says another concern the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Hezbollah has is the outcome of the three-month-old anti-government uprising in Syria, which could change the group’s fortunes.

“This is a pro-Syrian government," he said. "If the regime in Syria survives and continues and regains its footing and influence, then this government will continue on. If within a few months, the government in Syria has been replaced or something dramatic happens, this government will probably be impacted by that.”

Professor Khashan agrees that Hezbollah is worried about Syria and the regional climate in general, which is not moving in its favor as the Arab Spring turns to summer.

“Hezbollah at the moment prefers to be left alone," he said. "They are playing very low key. They are nervous about developments in Syria and they do not want to be conspicuous. It suits Hezbollah at the present juncture in regional and Lebanese affairs to be unnoticed.”

That lower profile bodes well for Lebanon’s southern neighbor Israel, with whom Hezbollah waged a month-long war in 2006. Analysts say that despite their history, neither side wants to engage in another conflict.

Beyond the region, the United States and Europe are watching closely to see what route the new government takes. The United States lists Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and its rise to power could lead the U.S. to reevaluate its military and economic aid to Lebanon, particularly if Beirut cuts its cooperation with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

You May Like

China’s Influence Grows With New Infrastructure Bank

Multibillion-dollar China-backed and BRICS-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seen as possible challenger to such lenders as IMF, World Bank More

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

Rabbi Michel Serfaty makes the rounds in his friendship bus to encourage dialogue and break down barriers between the two groups More

Post-deal Iran Leaders Need 'Economic Momentum' to Solidify

Economists say deal could inject more than $100 billion into coffers - not enough to entirely rescue ailing economy - but maybe adequate to create 'economic momentum' More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impacti
X
Michael Bowman
June 28, 2015 10:05 PM
Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Chemical-Sniffing Technology Fights Australia's Graffiti Vandals

Cities and towns all over the world spend huge amounts of resources battling graffiti writers who deface buildings, public transport vehicles and even monuments. Authorities in Sydney, Australia, hope a new chemical-sniffing technology finally will stop vandals from scribbling on walls in the passenger areas of commuter trains. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Cambodia Struggling to Curb Child Labor

Earlier this year a United Nations report found 10 percent of Cambodian children aged 7-14 are working – one of the highest rates in the region – and said one in four children in that age bracket are forced to quit school to help their families. Although the child labor rate has dropped over the past decade, Cambodia has a lot more to do – including keeping more children in school. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

VOA Blogs