BEIRUT: Some have argued that Lebanon’s political establishment dodged a bullet on Sunday. As Arab Foreign Ministers met in Cairo to deliver a tirade of criticism against Iran and Hezbollah, Lebanon’s envoy somewhat succeeded in toning down the rhetoric in the Arab League’s statement which implied that the Lebanese government could also responsible for Hezbollah’s actions.
The Arab League's statement that “the terrorist organization Hezbollah – the partner within Lebanon’s government – is responsible for supporting terrorism”, inadvertently holds Lebanon accountable for Hezbollah’s perceived transgressions, given the fact that Hezbollah does indeed form part of Lebanon’s coalition government, and thus is indeed a partner.
Therefore, Lebanon would be expected to either refute such claims or seek an end to Hezbollah's intervention in the affairs of Arab states as demanded by the Arab league.
The Arab league's position also falls in line with the message conveyed by diplomats to Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil during his European tour last week.
The solution to this conundrum lies in President Michel Aoun’s statement that Lebanon is committed to adopting a disassociation policy.
While Aoun may revise his foreign policy ahead of Hariri's return to Lebanon with the aim of possibly convincing the outgoing prime minister that the reasons behind his resignation could be addressed, the Arab League's condemnation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization could severely hamper these efforts and entail serious consequences toward Lebanon.
Diplomatic sources are of the belief that Hariri’s resignation from Riyadh and the wave of arrests within the kingdom were surprising even to Saudi Arabia’s most prominent allies, including the U.S., which objected to the approach adopted by the kingdom and its ensuing repercussions on Lebanon.
But in spite of these developments, some see in Hariri’s resignation a positive shock that may push Hezbollah's camp to possibly make concessions in order to preserve Lebanon's internal stability; though none of the countries or local parties seeking to maintain stability would come to the defense of Hezbollah or justify its regional actions, including the party's allies within Lebanon.
This optimism regarding a positive political shock, however, is not shared across the board since rising tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have led so far to the collapse of Lebanon’s Cabinet, which provided political cover to Hezbollah.
It remains unclear whether Hezbollah would be willing to make concessions to convince Hariri to withdraw his resignation or to form a government that secures Saudi Arabia's support ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections at a time when Iran is making gains in the region particularly after capturing the Abu Kamal crossing in Syria, which essentially paves the way for an unchallenged passage between Iraq and Syria despite U.S. efforts to deny Tehran such success.
The coming months are likely to feature rising tensions not only over the possible formation of a new government but also the upcoming elections in May.
The failure to form a new government could probably result in the adjournment of elections, which according to sources, might be part of Saudi Arabia’s plan all along, given the fact that the new electoral law might grant Hezbollah and its allies a majority in the upcoming parliament.
Ironically, the international community is likely to argue against the extension of parliament's term for a fourth consecutive time and demand that elections be held on time, a position that resonates with both Hezbollah and Iran.
A version of this article appeared in Annahar's Arabic print issue on November 21, 2017. The article was adapted into English by Georgi Azar.
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