Lebanon’s fate continues to loom in uncertainty, as Hezbollah moved to topple the Western-backed government of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri over his steadfast support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), a UN-backed tribunal that is expected to indict Hezbollah operatives for the 2005 murder of Hariri’s father and former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Hezbollah’s aggressive act is just the latest in a series of moves that it has taken to undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty. Ultimately, the STL serves as the most prominent mechanism to weaken the influence of Hezbollah in Lebanon, but the Iranian proxy’s intent on discrediting the tribunal will require a unified Arab voice in its support to retain legitimacy and to serve as a counterweight to meddlesome Iranian influence in the country.
Hezbollah has proven that neither its ideology nor its interests are bounded by the Lebanese government or its policies. This was most apparent in 2006, when Hezbollah decided without consulting the Lebanese government or a single Arab state that it was within its authority to cross into sovereign Israeli territory, kill Israeli soldiers and kidnap others, which legitimately prompted an Israeli retaliation that engulfed Lebanon in its entirety. Then in 2008, when Lebanon’s government chose to exercise its sovereignty over telecommunications in its country, Hezbollah retaliated by seizing Beirut and betraying the red-line that it had vowed never to overstep: The mass killings of fellow Lebanese, leaving over eighty dead in the streets of Lebanon’s capital.
These encroachments are why a just, proper, and credible conviction by the STL is critical to diminishing and stemming Hezbollah’s popular influence and eventual uprising. A credible verdict against Hezbollah for assassinating Lebanon’s popular pro-Western, pro-sovereignty leader will discredit Hezbollah’s rhetoric and standing in the eyes of Lebanon’s citizens. Even more importantly, as speculation surfaces that the STL has validated that Hezbollah’s orders to kill Hariri were given by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, it will confirm to the people a notion that would inescapably cripple Hezbollah’s standing as Lebanon’s unyielding protector: That for Hezbollah, its loyalty to its Shi'a Islamist brethren and the interests of Iran come first and at the expense of its purported commitments to Lebanon and its stability.
Hezbollah is well aware that the STL poses an existential threat to its credibility in the country, and therefore it has moved assertively to discredit the tribunal. The Iranian proxy has repeatedly denounced the tribunal as an Israeli and American plot meant to debase the people of Lebanon – a call that does not necessarily ring hollow in the ears of Lebanese society. Now without a Western-backed government to support the pending Hezbollah indictments, the viability of the STL remains in the balance.
The preservation of the integrity of the tribunal and its convictions ultimately rests outside the influence of the West, whose intentions are viewed with skepticism by the Lebanese. Ultimately, moderate Sunni Arab governments, most of which have expressed occasional and lukewarm support for the tribunal at best, must unambiguously and publicly endorse the STL to provide the necessary counterweight to Hezbollah’s smear campaign and to stem the very Iranian hegemonic influences that these regimes fear. The pan-Arab voice would bestow legitimacy in the eyes of the Lebanese people that the West simply cannot provide. But perhaps most importantly, this would represent a significant and unified Arab tone against Iran and the Islamists that pose existential threats to secular Arab regimes and that endanger regional stability.
Ultimately, the fate of Lebanon rests with how its society copes with the inevitable convictions that the STL will hand down to Hezbollah. Arab governments can be complacent as the West continues to lose leverage to Iran and Hezbollah in the country. Conversely, if they have the vision to parlay their converging interests with the West to endorse the just indictments of Hezbollah, these governments can be the key that provides the first steps to free Lebanon from its Iranian shackles.
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