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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs