The researcher at the American Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Tony Badran, saw that Hezbollah controls the new government through which it drew the basic lines of its plan.
Badran wrote that after a year of political wrangling among Lebanon’s sectarian leaders, Hezbollah decided it was time to form a new government. By now, it should be clear to all observers that the terrorist group runs the Lebanese political system. Through this new government, Hezbollah will lead Lebanon’s relations with the outside world.
Hezbollah is the final verdict
He pointed out that it was the direct intervention of Hezbollah’s envoy, General Director of Public Security, Major General Abbas Ibrahim, that expedited the formation of the government. Hezbollah’s invitation ended a year-long dispute between two Sunni prime ministers-designate, Saad Hariri and Najib Mikati, on the one hand, and Maronite President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, on the other. The prolonged paralysis also highlighted the irrelevance of both sides, in contrast to Hezbollah’s position as the ultimate arbiter.
Not only does Hezbollah control the new government, as it did with previous governments in Lebanon, but it and its direct allies also own two-thirds of the governing portfolios. This is evident in the ministries that Hezbollah decided to keep, either directly or through its Shiite ally, the Amal Movement.
Although Hariri and Mikati fell out with Aoun and Bassil over ministries for more than a year, Hezbollah got the key positions it wanted in the government from the start. A year ago, while the Lebanese and foreign parties were enjoying talking about an “independent” and “technocratic” government, Hezbollah set its conditions, which included keeping the Finance Ministry in the hands of a Shiite candidate chosen in coordination with his ally, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. Berri appointed Youssef Khalil, the former director of financial operations at the Banque du Liban. The Maronite president and the appointed Sunni prime minister soon agreed.
France is drawn to the plan
External parties such as France were also drawn into the plan. It is known that French President Emmanuel Macron launched an initiative last year to press for a new Lebanese government. But Macron has always viewed Hezbollah as his main interlocutor in Lebanon. After the explosion in the port of Beirut in August 2020, Macron visited Lebanon and met with Hezbollah officials. According to the French press, Macron offered to enter into a partnership with Hezbollah in Lebanon, telling a deputy from the party: “I want to work with you to change Lebanon.” In addition to speaking with Hezbollah, Macron has personally reached out to the party’s Iranian sponsors.
Macron appears to have come to the conclusion that since Hezbollah, and Iran behind it, are the dominant players in Lebanon, partnership with them is a prerequisite for advancing French interests—both geopolitical and commercial. In addition to its current investments in offshore gas exploration in Lebanon, France is also looking at other projects. In September 2020, during his visit to Beirut, Macron was accompanied by Rodolphe Saade, Chairman and CEO of the French container shipping group CMA CGM Group. CMA CGM, a company that has been operating the Latakia Container Terminal since 2009, is seeking to rebuild Beirut Port.
A point of intersection between France and Hezbollah
In this context, the writer reveals Hezbollah’s choice of ministries in the new government. After taking over the Ministry of Public Health in two successive governments, Hezbollah chose to give up that portfolio in favor of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, which oversees the port. Moreover, the new minister, Ali Hamiyah, also holds French citizenship. In fact, some Lebanese media circles went so far as to point out that Hamiyeh’s candidacy represents a point of intersection between France and Hezbollah.
The French policy in the Levant does not conflict with the American policy. Indeed, in a highly unusual move, the US ambassador to Lebanon and her French counterpart visited Saudi Arabia in July to urge Riyadh to reinvest in the Hezbollah-dominated regime in Beirut. Similarly, the US Secretary of State and his French counterpart have tried to pressure the Saudis on this issue.
America aligns with Iran’s policy in Lebanon
The position of the United States is determined by the policy of realignment with Iran and its policy towards Lebanon. The perception of the United States in Lebanon is to prevent the “collapse of the state” by investing in “strengthening state institutions,” which Washington asserts will confront the “Hezbollah plan.” It is clear that the policy of supporting a “state” run by Hezbollah is pro-Iranian.
France’s nascent partnership with Hezbollah belies the American pretense to distinguish Hezbollah from a distinct “Lebanese state.” In its statement welcoming the new government’s announcement, the State Department did not mention Hezbollah even once, despite the group’s public and decisive position in that government. Nevertheless, the administration of President Joe Biden pledged to support the new government.
Badran concluded that everyone now understands that dealing with the “Lebanese government” means working with Hezbollah.