Davos-The victory of Hezbollah, Iran and Syria in the current battle out of the series of Lebanon’s wars does not mean opening a chapter of stability in Lebanon and closing the chapter of justice – as the tripartite alliance wishes – with a strategy of defiance that has received support from Arab and Western countries alike. Indeed, Hezbollah nominating businessman and seasoned politician Najib Mikati may be a “master’s stroke”, in view of the respect the Lebanese billionaire enjoys, especially among businessmen, locally, regionally and internationally, and of the fact that many describe him as a man of moderation. Yet this “master’s stroke” is in the interest of the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah trio, and not necessarily in Mikati’s interest or in the interest of Lebanon’s future on the international scene. Indeed, his nomination to the post of Prime Minister comes amidst Sunni discontent, and perhaps as one of the symbols of Sunni division at this dangerous phase of Lebanon’s present. Mikati also comes shackled with conditions listed by Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, who made it clear that no alternative Lebanese government to the one he toppled (Saad Hariri’s government) would be acceptable as long as it does not meet three conditions: first, that of withdrawing the Lebanese judges from the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL); second, that of putting a stop to the Lebanese government’s commitment by virtue of UN Security Council resolutions to fund 49 percent of the tribunal’s budget; and third, repealing the cooperation protocol between the Lebanese government and the Special Tribunal, a tribunal established by the Security Council under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which is binding for all UN member-states. Najib Mikati is therefore charged in advance with carrying out this challenge directed at the United Nations, and he has doubtless agreed to be at such a forefront, or else he would not have agreed to be Prime Minister-designate. The obvious question is thus as follows: what kind of relationship will Mikati form with the international community and with UN resolutions in light of the fact that his hands are tied to doing away with the resolution, the commitment and the protocol concerning the Special Tribunal? Indeed, there are many other resolutions that concern Lebanon, among them Resolution 1701 which has reinforced the presence of UN troops in the South, and these are resolutions that effectively fall under ceasefire and some stability. Just as important will be the challenge of shaping an identity for Lebanon that would go along Mikati’s personality, being open to the West and to modernity, knowing that the identity Hezbollah seeks for Lebanon more closely resembles that of the Islamic Republic of Iran, with its hostility to the West and to openness. Then there is the relationship with Syria, as Mikati has never made a secret of his affinity with Syria at every stage, especially as he and his family have vital interests in Syria, including in the field of mobile phones, and as Syria’s leadership has made clear its desire to regain direct and predominant influence on Lebanon. Mikati says he is the candidate of “moderation”, not that of “extremism”. The question thus poses itself: “whose extremism?”, and in what “center” will he position himself in light of Hezbollah, Iran and Syria clearly positioning themselves together? Indeed, the latter trio considers itself to be victorious, after having subjected the local players to its will, by removing Saad Hariri against his will and by imposing its conditions on Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, whose seven MPs provided the parliamentary majority for nominating Najib Mikati to the post of Prime Minister, allowing him to win by 68 votes versus 60 votes for Saad Hariri. Last but not least: what kind of relationship will Mikati form with the US Administration, which received a blow from the tripartite alliance and another relapse for “Obamian” diplomacy? Indeed, President Barack Obama realizes that the trio is wagering on his weakness and on his lack of alternatives. However, the man wants to remain President and is able to produce surprises as well as blunders, and he has his sights set on Iran at this juncture.
The burden of responsibility and choice weighs down the shoulders of Mikati, who assumed the post of Prime Minister for a period of 5 months immediately in the wake of the Cedar Revolution that toppled the Karami government and drove Syrian troops out of Lebanon in 2005. He has today been designated to form a government cabinet in the wake of the coup carried out by Hezbollah, Syria and Iran against the Saad Hariri government.
He is the man of both phases. Indeed, the previous phase had started with Syria’s insistence on amending the Lebanese constitution so as to allow for the reelection of its man, Emile Lahoud, as President of the Republic. This was followed by a confrontation that led to issuing UN Resolution 1559, which represented one of the main motives for revenge from former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, who played a part in having it issued. It is during this phase that revenge for Resolution 1559 and what preceded it began. As for the current phase, it is the phase of revenge for the UN resolutions entrusted with finding those responsible for the assassination of Rafic Hariri and his 22 companions and prosecuting them in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, this alongside the remaining political assassinations, which were classified as “terrorist” by the Security Council, and which investigations have proven to be connected to the Hariri assassination.
At the security level, and although some consider the Parliament’s election of Mikati and his efforts to form and head the next government to perhaps represent a safety valve that could stop the descent into blood-spattered confrontation, the situation is fragile and prone to a breakdown. Moreover, the events of the past few weeks have clearly shown that it was impossible to separate Syria from Hezbollah. Indeed, the logic behind such an assumption was flawed to begin with, as their cooperation runs deep and strong, even in their tactical competition and strategic alliance. Thus, those who wagered on, or promoted, breaking the bonds between Iran and Syria had in fact adopted a failing policy in the first place, being based either on delusions or on being misled.
Today, it has become clear that those who have mastered the art of misleading considered Obama’s “naivety” to be a “gift” and an opportunity not to be missed in order to buy time. Iran took advantage of a US President it from the start considered to be politically inexperienced and incompetent at the art of negotiation, as well as having neither the ability for confrontation nor any alternatives.
The reduced language of force in the Obama Administration and the reduced ability of the US to wage wars have given rise, within Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, to the conviction that this was a unique opportunity for Hezbollah to be able to speak the language of weapons without being held accountable or punished for it, as long as these weapons are not in effect turned towards Israel, and regardless of the escalation of political discourse under the slogan of “Resistance”. It is a unique opportunity where Syria can thwart every US or Saudi effort hindering its ambitions in Lebanon, and where it can sponsor defiance of UN resolutions and hinder the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Indeed, it has formed the resolve, along with Hezbollah, to obstruct the STL – at least by preventing the Lebanese government from cooperating with it – based on the conviction that the regional and international climate allows for this, and in fact may help to achieve it. This is while putting on record Hezbollah’s official stance, holding Israel responsible for the assassination of Rafic Hariri and stating that the STL is aimed at bringing down the Resistance.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is worried about what Barack Obama might have in mind, being under electoral pressures that might drive him to act with resolve towards Tehran by strengthening sanctions that are harmful to it. He might even be forced to do more than this if Iran continues to provoke and embarrass him, directly, through its ally Hezbollah in Lebanon, or through its Syrian ally.
Perhaps what the tripartite alliance had in mind was to acquire the largest possible number of instruments of control and influence and to impose a de facto situation in Lebanon, this as quickly as possible, because the opportunity was available now. What this alliance wants is to implicate the Lebanese government in a direct confrontation with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in order to bring down justice under the threat of weapons and of undermining stability. Najib Mikati seems to have been charged with this delicate mission.
The Prime Minister-elect may consider that his predecessor Saad Hariri had offered both Syria and Hezbollah tremendous concessions, including that of clearing Syria politically and that of preparing to take steps to distance the Lebanese government from the Special Tribunal “after” the indictment is issued, not before it is. It is far too late for such a formula because the indictment has been presented by General Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare to the President of the Tribunal. Talk is then now about taking measures, measures it is being said that Saad Hariri himself was willing to take, and that, he being the martyr’s son, no one can thus be blamed in this respect.
Saad Hariri may see himself as the victim of a “political assassination”, and perhaps the victim of “treason” by several political players, both inside Lebanon and outside of it. Indeed, he found himself alone after the US Administration gave him but fleeting words as he received the news of his removal while sitting at the White House. He found himself deceived when French President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested that he was in a rush to hold a regional and international summit that would safeguard Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence as well as the STL. He found himself besieged by the force of weapons, of scare-mongering and of resolve to fight, while he for his part had taken the decision not to fight with weapons. He found himself besieged politically when his former ally Walid Jumblatt let him down in Parliament and when his friend Najib Mikati surprised him by agreeing to become the opposition candidate.
There are indications that Najib Mikati might be backed not just by France and Qatar, and that is because of his personality, which meets with respect. The test that faces him is a difficult and dangerous one, because the phase ahead is the phase of determining Lebanon’s identity and the direction it will be taking.
If Najib Mikati is thus the man of both phases, then what he will have to do in the coming weeks and months will be to determine the nature of the phase of which he will be the caretaker in Lebanon, if he manages to avoid falling into a dark tunnel leading to his destruction. Indeed, the coming phase is that of Hezbollah, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria waging their war against the Special Tribunal for Lebanon through Najib Mikati’s government. The danger is for Lebanon to turn into a marginal marginalized state, having no respect on the international scene because it chose to come “attached” and yielded to the dictates of crushing justice. The danger is for Lebanon to turn into what would nearly be a “rogue” state if it takes upon itself the task of thwarting the UN resolutions it requested then turned against in a fierce battle.