Hezbollah’s ministers resign after failing to derail tribunal
Lebanon's government collapses after March 8 ministers and one minister close to President Michel Sleiman withdrew from cabinet. (Dalati & Nohra)
Eleven ministers representing Hezbollah and its allies resigned yesterday, forcing the collapse of the cabinet of Saad Hariri, 14 months after its formation, which took 16 months. The Hezbollah walkout came after the party and its allies failed to dissuade Hariri from supporting the UN-created Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), formed to bring to justice perpetrators of the 2005 assassination of his father and predecessor Rafik Hariri and a dozen other anti-Hezbollah politicians, journalists and military personnel.
The Lebanese stalemate has been brewing for the past few weeks. Hezbollah denounced the tribunal, accused it of being an Israeli and American conspiracy and demanded that the cabinet convene to vote on ending Lebanon’s commitments to STL, including the scrapping of a protocol of cooperation and stopping Lebanon’s 51 percent footing of the tribunal’s bill. Hezbollah also demanded that the cabinet vote on bringing what the party calls STL’s “false witnesses” before Lebanese justice. The party and its allies threatened that violence in Lebanon might break out, should the cabinet fail to swiftly stop international justice.
Hariri, for his part, stood his ground and insisted that justice and stability are not mutually exclusive. In his support, regional powers as well as the United States and France voiced their continued commitment toward STL. These powers also announced the payment of their share of the UN fees due to the tribunal.
Meanwhile, STL’s indictment is expected to come out on Monday, according to the NOW Lebanon news portal. According to a recent report by Washington’s Congressional Research Service, the indictment will accuse members of Hezbollah, and probably senior Syrian officials, of involvement in the Hariri crime.
On the ground, Lebanese worker unions – most of whose leadership is affiliated with Hezbollah and Syria – promised to take to the streets to protest wages, a step that is believed to be politically motivated. Such protests might lead to escalation and consequentially confrontations in the streets.
Whether Lebanon will head to an all-out civil war cannot be determined with certainty. It is most likely that Hezbollah and its allies will stir away from taking the country into a full scale conflict, which in the medium and long terms, will open the doors to anti-Hezbollah forces striking roots inside Lebanon and possibly hunting down party officials later. In this context, it is most probable that Lebanon’s confrontation will remain within the political realm. The fact that Hezbollah and its allies chose to walk out of government, instead of sending their militias to the streets of Beirut like in May 2008, tells that war is not in the interest of any party yet.