BEIRUT: Lebanese officials are trying to counter Saudi Arabia’s pressure to thwart the formation of a new Cabinet that includes Hezbollah by avoiding open discussions on the burden that the group represents, both in terms of the kingdom's stance and renewed U.S sanctions.
Some officials are of the belief that Saudi Arabia’s latest escalation is aimed at pitting Lebanon against Hezbollah. The kingdom, according to these officials, likely believes that Lebanon would become cognizant of the affliction caused by the group and put forth the proposition of a Cabinet devoid of Hezbollah party members. This, however, remains a far-fetched scenario due to numerous political and practical constraints, with President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri awaiting outgoing Prime Minister Hariri’s return to Beirut before entertaining that idea.
In the meantime, concerned Lebanese officials are trying to weather the crisis in the hope of shielding Lebanon from plunging into a constitutional and political crisis though they have come to the conclusion that Hariri’s resignation is final.
With Parliamentary elections looming on the horizon, the first since 2009, Lebanese officials seem to favor the formation of a technocrat Cabinet with the sole purpose of organizing the legislative elections. This minimal concession would also serve Hezbollah who is wary of attempts to target the group and deny it any form of political cover.
Also, sources are of the belief that the Future Movement is determined to rename Hariri in parliamentary consultations to nominate a prime minister in order to block Hezbollah from naming another Sunni figure lenient to the party, with one touted name being former Minister Faisal Karame. According to these sources, Karame is unlikely to accept that position, while the Future Movement might be willing to accept the formation of a technocrat Cabinet to alleviate concerns.
According to these sources, a technocrat Cabinet would be the most evident way forward, even if that doesn’t represent a long-term solution. If the formation of a neutral government able to distance itself from regional conflicts does indeed become reality, this might be beneficial to Hezbollah in the upcoming parliamentary elections, given the fact that the new electoral law might permit the party and its allies of gaining a majority.
However, what is being avoided at the moment can resurface in the coming months, if Hezbollah and Iran decide to respond to Saudi Arabia’s escalatory measures in kind.
Two opposite and extreme scenarios have now become evident.
Either an actual war between Saudi Arabia, Iran and its proxy Hezbollah breaks out, or this political crisis engulfing Lebanon becomes the driving force pushing both regional forces to seek channels of dialogue and diplomatic solutions.
The latter scenario, however, seems even more unlikely than the prospect of war, as Lebanon finds itself caught in the crossfire of two regional powers vying to gain the upper hand.
What is now being looked at is the underlying reasoning behind Hariri’s resignation and its long-term impact. Will a Lebanese opposition be formed that seeks to adhere to what Hariri alluded to in his speech and reject any form of political dialogue with Hezbollah?
If Hariri’s resignation merely means that the status quo is maintained without his involvement then this would represent a loss for the Gulf kingdom and a blow for what it is trying to achieve.
On the other hand, Hezbollah and Iran will seek to counter Saudi’s increased interference and inflammatory rhetoric, as this interplays with the broader U.S led policy aimed at curbing both parties’ influence.
A version of this article appeared in Annahar's Arabic print issue on November 8, 2017. The article was adapted into English by Georgi Azar.
An-Nahar is not responsible for the comments that users post below. We kindly ask you to keep this space a clean and respectful forum for discussion.