Lebanon’s political chessboard

Lebanon will now finally have a government, months after the national unity coalition of Saad Hariri collapsed in January, following a pull out of Hezbollah.

The Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s recent announcement of a new cabinet is clearly dominated by Hezbollah, prompting Hariri and allies to denounce the new “Hezbollah government”. Irrespective of premier Mikati’s refuting this and instead insisting that his government is representative of the whole of Lebanon, the new political formation is clearly tilted towards the Shiite political group with half the cabinet comprising Hezbollah allied seats.

While this may not be unusual given the multifaceted politics of Lebanon, it could prove challenging once the UN Tribunal investigating the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri gives its verdict. In fact, the investigation findings were the reason for the fall out between Hezbollah and Hariri.

Hezbollah, that enjoys Iranian and Syrian backing has denied any involvement in the assassination and has vowed retaliation in case any of its members are indicted.

The possibility of infighting between political supporters of Hezbollah and other groups is very real as is a bigger conflagration involving regional states. Take for example the situation in the neighbourhood, which is highly tense with Syria. Similarly, given the toppling of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Israel is increasingly worried about the consequences of the imploding Arab spring. The situation has rendered it to be extra sensitive. In such circumstances, any political instability in Lebanon may well trigger even regional rivals to start off a proxy war in the country — something that is not unusual given past occurrences.

The difference is that now the geopolitical situation has undergone a dramatic shift over the past many months. Therefore, the political leadership in all concerned states should understand that the past dynamics might not bear the same results now. Fed up with the wrong policies of their leaders, the people who have had to bear the brunt in the past may now not take being pushed into corners for the sake of political wrangling.

It is, therefore, highly important that Lebanon refrains from sliding down the path to instability. The truth of the matter is that the perpetrators responsible for the Hariri assassination have to be dealt with. It is something the Lebanese people desire. In such a volatile situation, Hezbollah must take care to exercise restrain and assist in investigating the assassination rather than adopting a threatening attitude and vowing retaliation.

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