Lebanon is today a hundred years old, and it is standing at a crossroad that would mark its centennial and also determine its future. There are many options ahead, but only two will make or break Lebanon: the path of prosperity and openness to the world, or the path of resistance and isolation. There’s nothing else, and all the tricks that the Lebanese political elite used to play to keep Lebanon swinging between the two worlds are now futile. Lebanon has to choose, and there will be repercussions.
Now that the French initiative has concluded with utter failure, it seems that Hezbollah and its sponsors in Iran will not let Lebanon prosper – power and control is more vital for these regimes than the well-being of the Lebanese people. But these people have also realized that resistance comes with many discontents, and this is not a realization that Hezbollah can ignore or survive.
Today, the Lebanese people look around and see the region moving towards peace, prosperity, and modernity, while their country is drowning in darkness and isolation. In one hundred years of promise and potential, Lebanon is facing its gloomiest moment, and the only solution is very simple, and very clear: Hezbollah and its arms need to be contained; otherwise, there will be no more Lebanon, at least for the feasible future.
WILL HEZBOLLAH LET GO?
Hezbollah understands its limitation – financial, military, and political – but the group also understands that any compromise on their behalf will challenge whatever power and leverage they have in Lebanon, and to a certain extent in the region. That’s why it was obvious that they were not going to accept the conditions stipulated by the French initiative. They could not agree to an independent government that would eventually challenge their political and financial interests.
However, Hezbollah also knows that going on their own to form a government with only Hezbollah and their allies is not a good idea because it would lead to more isolation, sanctions, and probably military actions against them and their military facilities in Lebanon. They need to hide behind an acceptable Sunni face for a Prime Minister, while maintaining the same power and control over Lebanon and state institutions.
But that’s not easy, as both the international community and the Lebanese people have tried and exposed this trick, and only a truly independent government will be acceptable. So what did Hezbollah do? The only choice left was the void at this point until further notice, at least until November 3rd – when the next US administration will be determined. Then all options will be revisited, in Lebanon and across the region.
It has become clear a while ago that Hezbollah will not compromise without serious pressure. The group and its Iranian sponsors have spent much time and effort to reach the level of power they have achieved today. After the assassination of prime minister Rafic Hariri in 2005, and the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon, Hezbollah moved to inherit the country from the Assad regime and then establish its roots to secure the Iranian regime’s interests.
The infamous memorandum of understanding that was immediately signed with Michel Aoun – now president because of that same understanding or deal – secured Hezbollah the Christian cover it desired, and thereby a large parliamentary bloc that eventually won them the majority in the parliament after the 2018 elections, based on an electoral law that was specifically catered to produce such results. Eventually, Hezbollah imposed the Doha agreement, which established the national unity government – a concept that had never been heard of in Lebanon – thereby eliminating the results of the 2005 parliamentary elections, and the March 14 government in Lebanon. That clearly undemocratic moment – coupled with a series of assassinations of major March 14 figures – allowed Hezbollah to creep into the Lebanese state and its institutions, and eventually take over.
After all these achievements, which required a number of sacrifices and spending on Hezbollah’s and Iran’s part, Hezbollah will not easily compromise, even if the country is collapsing and its people are starving. People’s well-being is not a Hezbollah priority, as long as it doesn’t turn into a threat or a challenge.
A COLLAPSE OF HEZBOLLAH’S EMPIRE?
However, Hezbollah is aware that its power is also linked to its access to the state institutions, and if the state collapses, much will be lost, and its achievements might just become futile.
Despite the fact that the Hezbollah-Aoun memorandum of understanding remains in effect, it is no secret that the differences between Aoun and Hezbollah are surfacing, mainly due to the US sanctions, the French pressure, and the disenchantment of the Christian street in Lebanon, mainly after the Beirut explosion that occurred on August 4, 2020. In addition, Aoun’s son-in-law Gebran Bassil, who was hoping to become the next Lebanese president after his father-in-law, has now lost this aspiration, after becoming the Lebanese street’s main enemy.
Every one of Hezbollah’s allies had to pay a price, both in the street and internationally, not to mention that the possibility of more sanctions ahead of the US presidential elections is stronger. Even Speaker and Amal leader Nabih Berri has already been targeted by sanctions via his closest men, former minister Ali Hassan Khalil. And Berri cannot afford to lose more people to sanctions or to political maneuvers of Hezbollah.
Eventually, a deal will be made with Iran, and for both the republican and the democratic candidates, the regime in Iran will have to make compromises in the region. The next deal will not focus solely on the Iran’s nuclear program, simply because both Trump and Biden are not in a rush to get Iran to sign a deal. On the other hand, Iran is in deep financial and economic trouble, and they do not have the luxury of time. This time around, it is more likely that Iran will compromise, and Hezbollah will therefore be forced to sacrifice, or be sacrificed.
Until that moment, Lebanon will be sacrificed, its economy will collapse further, and its people will pushed out and about. However, a day will come when Hezbollah will be too isolated to use its leverage and political capital. And eventually, the Lebanese people, including many Shia, have realized that Hezbollah’s resistance comes with too many discontents, and the only way forward is the opposite path; that is prosperity, peace, and openness. This choice will one way or another be manifested, and parliamentary elections are only one way of this manifestation.