Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, September 21st, 2018

A Fresh Test for Lebanese Realpolitik

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A Fresh Test for Lebanese Realpolitik

For the last few decades, Middle East (M.E) has turned to the forefront of political maneuvers and global proxy battles. World great states and the regional emerging powers have been long struggling to increase their influence in the region. To achieve their goals, they need to attract the M.E. regimes' support, particularly the main regional actors, to make alliances and build friendly relations. This has ultimately led to longstanding divergence in the regional realpolitik. Syria and Lebanon are of the heartland countries in the Middle East. The two countries have recently drawn into serious political tensions. It has sometimes put the region into possibly big chaos and political instability. Syria officially recognized Lebanon as an independent state in late 2008. Ever since France carved Lebanon out of Syria in 1920, the two neighbors have had a complicated and sometimes confrontational sibling relationship.

Having recently come out of the long civil wars, Lebanon remains highly susceptible to domestic and external instability. The assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was widely blamed on Syrian agents. At the outset, Rafiq's successor, Saad Hariri and his allies pinned the blame on Damascus, which was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, ending a presence of nearly three decades. However, some fingers were pointed at Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese militant group. UN then formed a team to investigate the occurrence. The court was formed by a 2007 UN Security Council resolution. Before the court verdict was released, Lebanese politicians had expressed fears of a new eruption of violence in the country if Hezbollah members were charged.

On the other side, Lebanon topped world news events when Hezbollah ministers and its allies submitted their resignation to Prime Minister Saad Hariri which led to absolute collapse of his government. Hezbollah group came under severe criticism for its challenge to Hariri's government. However, the realpolitik proved advantageous for Hezbollah and its allied groups. Hezbollah won the rivalry and owned the Lebanese Premier seat. The happening, which brought about protests and intractable conflicts, has raised concerns over the country's fragile stability. The disagreement emerged on Jan. 12 after a long-running dispute over the UN-backed tribunal probing the 2005 murder of ex-premier Hariri. The militant party pressed Hariri to disavow the tribunal, which it believed will implicate Hezbollah members, the prediction that finally came true.

On Friday, the UN-backed tribunal issued the indictment in which four Hezbollah members are named. Lebanese Interior Minister Marwan Charbel confirmed the names of the men charged by the Netherlands-based Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) and said efforts would begin to arrest them. He said Lebanon's Prosecutor General Said Mirza had given him the arrest warrants early Friday. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, an ally of Hezbollah, has called for a parliamentary vote of confidence on the country's Hezbollah-dominated government on Monday, the state-run National News Agency reported. Hezbollah and its allies form a slight majority in parliament. The parliamentary bloc of Saad Hariri, son of the slain Rafiq and head of Lebanon's pro-Western opposition, on Friday said it would not grant the cabinet its vote of confidence over its policy statement which "in practice means the government has disclaimed Lebanon's commitments to the STL." Prime Minister Najib Mikati's government submitted Thursday to parliament its program, which stipulates that Lebanon would respect international resolutions as long as they did not threaten the civil peace.

In contrast to the powerful Hezbollah's stance against the court, State Minister Ahmad Karami said Saturday Lebanon is fully committed to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and should continue financing the court as agreed upon in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1757. "The Lebanese government is fully committed to international resolutions, especially resolution 1757 that is related to the Special Tribunal, since it is impossible to oppose these resolutions," Karami told Voice of Lebanon Radio Station, adding that such commitment would maintain Lebanon's relationship with Western and neighboring countries.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah on Saturday ruled out the arrest of four members of his group indicted by the UN court. In his first reaction to charges filed by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), Nasrallah rejected the verdict along with "each and every void accusation" by the Netherlands-based court, which he said was heading for a trial in absentia."We reject the Special Tribunal for Lebanon along with each and every void accusation it issues, which to us is equivalent to an attack on Hezbollah," Nasrallah said in an hour-long televised speech. The STL, the first international court with jurisdiction to try an act of terrorism, has triggered a deep political crisis in the volatile Middle Eastern country, leading to the collapse of the Western-backed government of Hariri's son Saad Hariri and sparking fears of yet another round of sectarian-based violence. But Nasrallah on Saturday assuaged fears of civil unrest, reiterating charges that the STL was a plot by his arch-foe Israel to crush Hezbollah and pit Lebanon's Sunni and Shiite Muslim communities against each other. "The tribunal aims to incite discord among the Lebanese, but there will be no clashes between Sunnis and Shiites, nor will there be another civil war," Nasrallah said. He accused the STL of corruption and of having intentionally leaked information to the press in recent years to tarnish the image of Hezbollah, founded in 1982.

Hezbollah, blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by Washington, has repeatedly warned that it would not sit idle should any of its militants be accused of Hariri's assassination. All eyes today are on how Mikati's government will respond to the indictment and whether it will continue cooperating with the tribunal. The United Nations along with the United States have called on the Lebanese government to cooperate with the tribunal, while Hariri has hailed the indictment as a "historic" moment. The Iranian- and Syrian-backed party Hezbollah, the most powerful political and military force in Lebanon, engineered the collapse of Hariri's Western-backed unity government in January after he refused to end cooperation with the tribunal. Lebanon has 30 days to serve out the STL arrest warrants. If the suspects are not arrested within that period, the tribunal can then publicly call on them to surrender. The STL indictment comes at a delicate time for Hezbollah, with its ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad facing an unprecedented uprising against his rule.

Tensions are mounting in Lebanon over the tribunal. Many fear that the court's verdict over the murder case could roil Lebanon. The country is already susceptible to further instability because of domestic divergent approaches. Hezbollah had accused the United Nations of interfering in Lebanese affairs and called instead for a local investigation. The court's verdict will raise further political divergences in the country that will pave the way for more regional and international interferences there. The proxy disagreements may turn into proxy war. In addition, with no hesitation on regional and international powers' struggle for ensuring their benefits in the region, the Middle East will get more susceptible to instability if the domestic actors in Lebanon approach the question divergently. As Hezbollah is recognized as essential actor in Lebanese issues, internal disagreements will emerge in the country and thus Lebanon and the region will be put in a new trouble.

Nasruddin Memati is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at outlookafghanistan@gmail.com

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