Libanon - uten regjering på grensen av en krig

Michael J Totten

Lebanese Prime Minis­ter Najib Mikati—who was selected by Hez­bol­lah as the country’s pre­mier—has resig­ned, brin­ging his cabi­net and the govern­ment with him.

Armed clashes between Sun­nis and Ala­wi­tes have since resu­med in the city of Tri­poli, the country’s second lar­gest after Bei­rut. The Syrian govern­ment con­ti­nues stri­king tar­gets in the Bekaa Val­ley and in the north. Ran­som kid­nap­pers run wild. The threat of a serious inter­nal war between Hez­bol­lah and Sunni back­ers of the Free Syrian Army hangs heavily over the country.

It’s rat­her extra­or­di­nary that it hasn’t alre­ady star­ted since Lebanese Shias and Lebanese Sun­nis are cur­rently kil­ling each other just across the bor­der in Syria.

And now Leba­non is wit­hout a government—again.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Since Hez­bol­lah picked the prime minis­ter, is it any great loss that he’s gone?

Actually, maybe it is. Najib Mikati is not a Hez­bol­lah mem­ber. And if the lea­ders of the Iranian-sponsored ter­ro­rist group thought they could use him as a tool, they were wrong, at least for the most part. They’re the rea­son he got the job in the first place, but they’re also—at least accor­ding to Reu­ters—the rea­son he quit.

Mikati has been pres­sing for Lebanese neut­ra­lity in the Syrian war, but Hez­bol­lah wants Leba­non to side with Bashar al-Assad. What’s the point of sei­zing power in Leba­non if Bei­rut won’t back Hezbollah’s allies in Teh­ran and Damascus?

He looked like a Hez­bol­lah ally on the sur­face, but only if you squinted hard and didn’t watch what he did or lis­ten to the things that he said. He acted and soun­ded like an inde­pen­dent, and some­ti­mes even like he was alig­ned with the anti-Syrian “March 14” bloc. Some of my Lebanese sources and fri­ends said that’s exactly what he wants me to think, but others I trust and know just as well told me he is, in fact, quietly alig­ned with March 14 and is the­re­fore “one of us.”

The man has not been easy to read, and it’s impor­tant not to get sucke­red when Middle Eas­tern poli­ti­ci­ans say things you want to hear just to get you on side. This sort of thing hap­pens. Egypt’s Mus­lim Brot­her­hood knows exactly what to say to Western­ers to trick them into belie­ving the orga­niza­tion is mode­rate and democra­tic. They’re com­pletely and utterly full of it, but that hasn’t stop­ped an embar­ras­singly huge num­ber of jour­na­lists, ana­lysts, and diplo­mats from get­ting fooled by an orga­niza­tion that has always been theocra­tic and authoritarian.

Najib Mikati, though, is  a Sunni while Hez­bol­lah is Shia. Mikati isn’t a Sunni Isla­mist, eit­her. He’s a busi­ness­man, a tycoon. He’s the richest man in the country.

There are a couple of rea­sons Hez­bol­lah picked Mikati for prime minis­ter. Pri­ma­rily because he is not Saad Hariri, son of the slain Rafik Hariri whose assas­si­na­tion in down­town Bei­rut kicked off the anti-Syrian Cedar Revo­lu­tion in 2005.

Second, their pick­ings were slim. They couldn’t select one of their own. The Lebanese con­sti­tu­tion man­da­tes that the prime minis­ter be from the Sunni com­mu­nity. (The pre­si­dent, mean­while, must be a Chris­tian while the speaker of par­lia­ment is reserved for the Shias.) And the num­ber of com­pe­tent Sunni poli­ti­ci­ans in Leba­non who sin­ce­rely sup­port Hez­bol­lah is zero. Syria has a small num­ber of Sunni allies—and Mikati made his money in Syria—but Hez­bol­lah doesn’t have any.

Mikati was the best they could get.

And he wasn’t that great from their point of view.

A Wikile­aks cable pub­lis­hed in 2011 quo­tes him descri­bing Hez­bol­lah as “can­ce­rous” and say­ing he wis­hes to see their Syrian- and Iranian-backed ter­ro­rist sta­te­let destroyed.

Hez­bol­lah must have been furious when that came to light. The day that he would resign (or be other­wise rem­oved or even kil­led) over a con­flict with Hez­bol­lah was all but inevitable.

I asked Ed Gab­riel what he thinks of Mikati. He’s a for­mer US ambas­sador to Morocco and the foun­der of the Ame­ri­can Task Force for Leba­non. He’s from the Uni­ted Sta­tes, but his family is from Leba­non and he knows eve­ryone over there. He has known Mikati for years. And I trust his judgment.

He was elected to par­lia­ment in Tri­poli as an inde­pen­dent allied with March 14,” he says. “He agreed to become prime minis­ter in January 2011 because he wan­ted to avoid a clash over the issue of the Spec­ial Tri­bu­nal for Lebanon.”

The Spec­ial Tri­bu­nal for Leba­non, or STL, is the inter­na­tio­nal court set up by the Uni­ted Nations to investi­gate and prose­cute Hariri’s assassins. The STL is fin­ge­ring Hez­bol­lah for the crime.

It was pre­su­med that Mikati had made a tacit agreement to wit­hdraw Lebanese govern­ment sup­port for the STL to become prime minis­ter,” Gab­riel says, “but Mikati used a cle­ver mecha­nism to pay Lebanon’s STL obli­ga­tions for 2011 and 2012. Alt­hough he pre­viously had busi­ness inte­rests in Syria, Mikati is smart enough to have avoi­ded going to Syria since the out­break of vio­lence. March 14 seemed wil­ling to accept a Mikati govern­ment until the assas­si­na­tion of Wis­sam El Has­san on Octo­ber 19, 2012, when they accu­sed the Mikati govern­ment of tole­ra­ting mur­de­rers. Meaning­fully, and with the sup­port of Mikati, a Lebanese mili­tary court char­ged Mah­moud Hayek, a Hez­bol­lah security offi­cial, on February 1 with the attemp­ted assas­si­na­tion of pro­mi­nent March 14 poli­ti­cian Bou­tros Harb. In my opi­nion, Mikati has pro­ven his skep­tics wrong.”

He has indeed proved his skep­tics wrong. He also proved Hez­bol­lah wrong since they thought they could use him.

And they couldn’t.

Now the coun­try is wit­hout a govern­ment. Mikati has cal­led for a “care­ta­ker govern­ment” to take over until the next elections are held. Maybe Leba­non will get one and maybe it won’t. Eit­her way, the coun­try is clo­ser now to col­lapse than it has been at any time since the civil war ended.



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