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

On Everest, Helicopters Rescue Stranded Climbers

Choppers transport some of more than 100 mountaineers trapped after deadly quake, avalanches More

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

In 2005, a Paris suburb exploded into violence after two teenagers were electrocuted as they hid from police; since then, somethings have changed, others not More

US, Japan Announce Historic Revision of Defense Cooperation Guidelines

Nations say new guidelines will be 'cornerstone for peace and security' in Asia-Pacific region while also serving as 'platform for a more stable international security environment' 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.
‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europei
X
Henry Ridgwell
April 26, 2015 10:36 PM
Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video ‘Angel of the Migrants’ Helps Desperate Syrians Arriving in Europe

Waves of migrants are continuing to arrive on the shores of southern Italy from North Africa. After their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean, they face an unknown future in Europe. In the Sicilian city of Catania there is an activist dedicated to helping the refugees on their journey.
Video

Video Ten Years After Riots, France Searches for Answers to Neglected Suburbs

January’s terrorist attacks and fears of more to come are casting a spotlight on France’s neglected suburbs. Home to many immigrants, and sometimes hubs of crime, they were rocked by rioting a decade ago. Lisa Bryant visited the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 violence first broke out, and has this report about what has changed and what has not.
Video

Video Gay Marriage Goes Before US Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether gay people have a constitutional right to marriage. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the case could lead to the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage, or a continuation of the status quo in which individual states decide whether to recognize gay unions.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

VOA Blogs