Hezbollah reduces the impact of US and Gulf sanctions on its participation in the next Lebanese government, but seeks to strengthen its share and presence in it.
By Dr. Haytham Mouzahem — After the appointment of Saad Hariri to form the new Lebanese government after the results of the May 6 parliamentary elections, some Lebanese politicians and Arab media reported that Hezbollah’s participation in the government would hinder its formation due to US and Gulf sanctions announced on May 16 And extended a number of party leaders and companies accused of being linked to it.
The new sanctions included the Secretary General of the party Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and his deputy Sheikh Naim Qassem and a number of members of the Consultative Council of the decision, which is the supreme leadership body concerned with the adoption of basic and important decisions.
A US Treasury official denied that the US move was to influence the formation of the Lebanese government. Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani, a member of the Lebanese Forces party, said that US sanctions may affect the formation of the government in terms of the quality of portfolios and ministers representing Hezbollah and the margin given to ministers.
But Nasrallah has played down the impact of these sanctions on Hezbollah and the formation of the government. On 25 May, in his speech marking the anniversary of the liberation of southern Lebanon from the Israeli occupation, he said that his party had already been placed on US and Gulf terror lists without affecting his entry into previous governments. He explained that his party did not ask to assume the ‘sovereign” ministries in the next government, but stressed that Hezbollah will have an active presence in the government.
Lebanese researcher and political analyst Rabee Barakat says to THE LEVANT NEWS the impact of US sanctions on Hizballah’s participation in the government and its assumption of some ministries is limited, but is intended to be built on later to bring American legal influence to a broader circle of party figures in the Lebanese government.
The Lebanese political analyst Daoud Ramal, in turn, sees no impact on the US-Gulf sanctions on Hezbollah in the process of forming the government, except that some Lebanese parties may use these sanctions in the process of hardening demands. Rammal explained that none of the names that have been sanctioned of Hezbollah members is a candidate for a ministerial post in the government.
Barakat explains that it is not the first time that the US Treasury Department has imposed such sanctions on Hezbollah, including Nasrallah. It did so for the first time in 1995 and it was repeated at the beginning of the Syrian events. What is new is that the sanctions come in the context of increasing pressure on Iran and its allies since Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal, a first step that has no immediate consequences, but paves the way for next steps that may have the greatest impact in the near future.
Barakat points out that the US sanctions came in full coordination with the Arab Gulf states, so that the decision was issued by the “Center for Targeting Terrorist Financing” nearly a year after its establishment, which gives this step a symbolic indication of the regional cover it enjoys, and a practical dimension that can be taken later, in the context of the formation of Gulf policies consistent with the gradual pressure exerted by Washington on Tehran and its allies.
Hezbollah and its allies have made significant progress in the elections and with its ally the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), they control the majority in the Parliament (between 71 and 74 out of 128 deputies). Its bloc, the Loyalty to the Resistance, won 14 seats, demanding three ministers, while they have two ministers in the current government.
What is new is the party’s demand for a basic ministry, among the five basic ministries: health, energy and water, public works and transport, communications and education. The head of the parliamentary bloc of Hezbollah Mohammad Raad has called during parliamentary consultations with President Michel Aoun to develop a ministry of planning, which needs a law to be issued in the parliament.
Rammal says that Hezbollah’s share in the government has been settled: three ministers, including a basic portfolio and not a sovereign. The party would accept a portfolio of three, health, energy, public works and transportation. The party is prepared to assume the Ministry of State for Planning, as a start before transforming it into a basic ministry.
Some observers say Hezbollah is seeking to increase its ministerial quota and demand a basic ministry to strengthen its influence within the state institutions in the face of US and Gulf sanctions and pressures, and to satisfy its supporters with jobs in light of rising unemployment and deteriorating economic and social conditions in the country.
Rammal does not expect differences over the government’s ministerial statement regarding the position on Hezbollah’s weapons and the right to resist the Israeli occupation, the position on the Syrian war and the policy of distancing Lebanon from regional conflicts. He said the best solution is to copy the ministerial statement of the current government, which stated that “the need to distance Lebanon from external conflicts is committed to respecting the Charter of the League of Arab States and in particular Article VIII thereof with the adoption of an independent foreign policy.”
On the issue of resistance, the statement said: “We will spare no effort and will not provide resistance in order to liberate the remaining occupied Lebanese territories and protect our homeland from an enemy that continues to covet our land, water and natural resources … The government affirms the state’s duty to liberate the Shebaa Farms, Kfarshuba hills, and the Lebanese part of village of Ghajar, by means of various legitimate means, with emphasis on the right of Lebanese citizens to resist the Israeli occupation and to confront the aggression and the return of the occupied territories. ”
In any case, Hezbollah’s participation in the government or its ministerial statement will not be the main challenges to the government, and President Michel Aoun. But the most important challenges are: saving the financial and economic situation, the fate of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Israeli threats of a new war on Lebanon, and avoiding the impact of US and Gulf sanctions on Hezbollah on the economy of the country as a whole.