After five months of political stagnation, Lebanon has a new government headed by Najib Mikati, ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hizballah. Formed suddenly on June 13, the 30-minister lineup has awarded an unprecedented number of portfolios – 18, including defense interior – to Hizballah loyalists and pro-Syrian politicians. Gone is the careful sectarian balancing act which maintained a measure of equilibrium and kept civil war in Lebanon at bay.
The breakthrough was directly spawned by the Syrian uprising: The Shiite Hizballah capitalized on neighboring unrest to grab its largest slice of government ever. Assad set up a second front against his foes in Beirut, added muscle to his military repression at home and signaled the US, Turkey and Europe that attempts to topple his regime risked sparking civil strife and chaos in neighboring Lebanon. The peril of inflaming the entire Levant was meant to deter foreign military intervention in Syria.
1. Lebanon's first pro-Syrian defense minister can bend the Lebanese army to the will of Damascus and the pro-Iranian HizballIah. The minister, Fayez Ghosn, member of the Marada Movement led by MP Sleiman Franjiehof the influential northern Lebanese Christian clan whose private militia is traditionally funded by the Assad family in Damascus. So next time Hizballah coordinates with Syria a mass Palestinian demonstration to storm the two frontiers – as it did on May 15 – the Lebanese army will not be there to block its advance. A clash with Israeli troops would then become inevitable on both fronts.
2. Ghosn can count on firm support from the new interior minister, Brig. Gen. Marwan Charbel, a Marad follower who will control all the national intelligence and security services. Close cooperation between the two promises Damascus and Hizballah total grip on every aspect of security – domestic and external. Pro-Western agencies in Lebanon are in for hard times.
General Charbel is close to another Christian powerhouse with a role in government, Gen. Michel Aoun, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement and Hizballah's chief Christian ally.
This interior minister was chosen to cement the disparate parts of government and push the Christian President Gen. Michel Suleiman into a corner from which he has no choice but to kowtow to an administration which is the tool of Damascus and Hizballah.
3. Aoun's Christian bloc was awarded eight ministerial portfolios, including the important justice, energy minister and telecommunications.
For years, Hizballah coveted telecommunications because of its control over Lebanon's satellite communications, landline and cellular phone systems as well as radio and television networks. When denied this post, Hizballah used Iranian funding to establish its own independent media networks.
Now telecommunications is in friendly hands.
4. Damascus and Hizballah have also attained command of Lebanon's judicial and security systems in time to anticipate the international court's publication of indictments for the 2005 assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. According tips they have received, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon-STL plans to issue indictments against Syrian military intelligence officials and members of Hizballah's security and intelligence organizations at the end of this month or in early July. Publication will come with warrants for the arrest and extradition of these suspects.
Damascus sees Washington's long arm behind this move for the purpose of punishing Assad for his harsh punishment of Syrian dissenters. The new Lebanese government is structured to outmaneuver the special tribunal by issuing a statement invalidating its authority and refusing to obey its decrees.
5. The pro-Iranian and pro-Syrian government installed now in Beirut is a major shot in the arm for the radical Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah alliance which sagged after the loss of one of its senior members, Turkey.
Up until the eruption of the Arab Revolt in December 2010, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was a prominent member of this bloc, viewing it as the vehicle for fulfilling his dream of a dominant regional role and serving as the bridge between the Muslim world and the West.
In the last three months, Erdogan established rapport with US President Barack Obama, as a result of which Iran, Syria and Hizballah decided to drop him. The new Lebanese government makes it possible to replace Turkey by Lebanon, the state, rather than Hizballah, the movement, as a full-fledged member of their alliance.