Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :
Mustafa Fahs

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Lebanon Pending Until After ‘Post-Gaza’ 

Hezbollah refuses to decouple the war on Gaza from the war it has been waging in support of Gaza from the South since October 8, 2023. This insistence closes the door to a land-border agreement linked to the implementation of UN Resolution 1701.

Despite the appealing aspects of the offers that have been put forward by the Americans and the French, Hezbollah has reiterated its insistence on linking a ceasefire in the South to a ceasefire in Gaza. It has rejected every offer received by Beirut, stressing that they are all contingent on the permanent or temporary Iranian-US deal that is probably being negotiated in Muscat. The way the party sees it, this deal could reconsolidate Iran’s influence in the region after the war on the Gaza Strip ends.

Hezbollah can refuse every foreign offer and give the Quintet Committee the cold shoulder because it has monopolized decisions of war and peace. It has replaced the state, whose political, executive, and constitutional decisions it has placed in its hands through parliament, exploiting the presidential vacuum and the government's incapacity.

Meanwhile, what remains of Lebanon’s executive institutions and parliament play no other role than to oversee services that are absent in the first place, and to discuss legislation or implement policies that benefit the ruling clique financially, passing laws or blackmailing European countries through Syrian refugees. As for strategic policies and consequential matters - like presidential elections and foreign policy, meaning resolution 1701 - they are not the government’s prerogative, but that of parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Hezbollah’s only and trusted partner.

Accordingly, the Quintet Committee tasked with helping Lebanon end the vacancies at the highest levels of the state, is aware that Berri holds the keys. It is now engaging with him as the man at the top of the pyramid. Nonetheless, the Quintet, which represents Arab states and the international community, cannot keep waiting for much longer.

For its part, the “duo” of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, which Berri speaks for politically, has put resolving these matters on hold as it waits for a favorable external settlement to mature. Meanwhile, the Quintet focused on a comprehensive Lebanese settlement has its own interests and considerations in Lebanon and the region. It has set a deadline for this national settlement, and when this deadline is passed, it will retaliate against those who foiled its efforts.

Indeed, if there is no progress by the end of the month, the Quintet will resort to implementing the decisions made during its latest meeting in Doha, which hinted at the possibility of taking punitive measures against those whom the Quintet blames for obstructing its efforts.

The ruling duo has not shown any genuine flexibility in its engagement with the Quintet. It turned a blind eye to the decisions of the meeting in Doha that emphasized the need for Lebanon to elect a president accepted by all Lebanese communities who can carry out the economic reforms recommended by the International Monetary Fund and implement relevant resolutions issued by the United Nations. However, the duo will not accept the stipulations it had rejected before the war on Gaza began after the war ends.

For the duo, the Israeli government’s failure to achieve its military objectives in Gaza and South Lebanon amounts to a new divine victory, regardless of the scale of the destruction and the political and humanitarian calamities that have befallen the Palestinian cause. If the war expands or ends soon, Hezbollah and Hamas will apply the same magic formula: survival is victory.

In practice, declaring victory after the war ends is probably the key to a bargain between Tehran and Washington. That is, this claim to victory is intended to allow the party to agree to terms with Washington through White House Envoy Amos Hochstein, without the involvement of the Quintet. It seeks to strike a deal that allows it to maintain its gains and through which Washington acknowledges its authority under the pretext of American realism.

However, there is nothing to guarantee that domestic actors or other regional and international powers will acquiesce to this realism, especially since questions regarding what comes after the war on Gaza do not concern Tehran and Washington alone. Despite having been complicit in allowing Iran to expand its influence, the US cannot give Tehran everything it wants, as regional and international obstacles will compel the US to address their concerns as well.

The insistence on waiting for the end of the war on Gaza is actually an insistence on awaiting a deal between Tehran and Washington. In the meantime, the party is escalating its military operation in the South and taking a harder line domestically.

Thus, Hezbollah is growing more insistent on imposing the election of its candidate and its vision for the settlement, which in its view is no longer a Lebanese-Lebanese, Lebanese-Arab, Lebanese-Arab-Iranian, Lebanese or international (the Quintet) affair. Rather, Hezbollah believes it will be and wants it to be an Iranian-American matter. The settlement will account for some non-Iranian interests in Lebanon but within limits set by the party. However, a deal with Washington will not necessarily be enough to ensure that Hezbollah achieves its ends.