Lebanon’s New Status Quo

BEIRUT – Hezbollah’s armed insurrection in May, which overran Beirut and other parts of Lebanon, has dealt a further blow to hopes of true state sovereignty in the country, strengthening Hezbollah and weakening the Western-backed government. But it also brought about a new political accord, negotiated in Doha, Qatar, providing for election of a president after a long stalemate, formation of a national unity government, a new election law, and a return to a national dialogue over relations between the state and non-state actors, particularly Hezbollah.

There is much speculation about the reasoning behind the government’s decisions in May to dismiss the pro-Hezbollah chief of airport security and investigate Hezbollah’s private telecommunications network, which sparked the confrontations. The government had been under longstanding international pressure to honor at least some of its international commitments to contain Hezbollah, and it wrongly calculated that the group would only respond in a limited way. Most importantly, the government mistakenly reckoned that Hezbollah would not risk Shia-Sunni clashes in Beirut.

Similar questions surround Hezbollah’s reasoning in unleashing large-scale action that risked sectarian warfare and jeopardized its moral high ground. But it has largely achieved its aims. Militarily, it has nipped in the bud any potential armed militia in West Beirut that could hinder its movement beyond the southern suburbs. It also secured key highways south and east of Beirut that Druze leader Walid Junblatt previously dominated and reasserted its access to the capital’s airport and seaports.

Politically, Hezbollah abandoned its policy of waiting out the government, in favor of pushing it to the breaking point and quickly fashioning a new status quo. Now it has strong influence with the new president whom it helped bring to power, a blocking veto in the next government, and it has drawn a clear line in the sand regarding the untouchability of its arms and its communication and operational infrastructure.