I’ve written something about the current showdown in Beirut for Foreign Policy. The first couple of paragraphs are pasted below, followed by a link to the rest of the article. Comments and critiques are welcome.
No Victors in Lebanon
Lebanon’s dysfunctional political system has once again been set back to square one. Months of speculation, rumors, and unconfirmed press reports about a negotiated settlement to the latest crisis came to an abrupt end Jan. 12, when Hezbollah and its allies resigned from Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government, precipitating its collapse. This step sets the stage for a confrontation over the makeup of the next government. And in this showdown, all sides stand to come out losers.
Political divisions over the U.N. Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which is charged with prosecuting those responsible for the 2005 assassination of Saad’s father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, are the cause of the crisis. A number of explosive leaks to the media have signaled that the tribunal plans to indict members of Hezbollah for the crime. Hezbollah and its allies, in a bid to contain the domestic fallout from this revelation, have demanded that Hariri cut Lebanon’s funding for the tribunal and disavow any indictment issued by the court. Because Hariri refused to give in to their demands, Hezbollah and its allies have now upped the ante by toppling his government.
The opposition’s walkout had an air of inevitability about it, but also one of desperation. Hezbollah now faces the difficult task of bringing to power a new Sunni prime minister — under Lebanon’s political system, the premier must be a Sunni — who would heed its call to end Lebanon’s cooperation with the STL. But even if the Shiite militant group musters the majority in parliament to do so, it’s unclear what the practical effect of its victory would be. The STL indictments will emerge regardless of who sits in the premier’s chair in Beirut, and funding will come from other states even if Lebanon declares that it will no longer contribute financial support to the court.
As has long been recognized, Hariri’s value to Hezbollah was never his ability to disrupt the progress of the investigation of his father’s murder. Hezbollah’s goal was for Hariri to join the party in denouncing the court as a politicized organ whose legitimacy had long been compromised by “false witnesses” bent on misleading the court, or even a vast Zionist-American conspiracy targeting the Lebanese resistance against Israel. The chances of Hariri acceding to Hezbollah’s demands on this score have grown far slimmer now that the party has brought down his government. He has nothing to gain by giving in now.