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Thursday 24 Aug 2017 | 11:12 | SYDNEY
Thursday 24 Aug 2017 | 11:12 | SYDNEY

Lebanon: There goes another one

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13 January 2011 13:11

Nearly six years after his father was assassinated by a car bomb in Beirut, Sa'ad Hariri has now seen his government fall at the hands of the very group whose members are likely to be accused of complicity in his father's death. The timing of the resignation of the Hizbullah ministers and their allies was done with the same precision as the bombing — at the same time as Prime Minister Hariri was holding talks with President Obama.

The US had been Hariri's strongest backer in supporting the UN's Special Tribunal for Lebanon, set up to try those alleged to be responsible for Rafiq Hariri's death, while Hizbullah had been doing everything in its power to see the STL disappear. The announcement of the resignation and the subsequent collapse of the government was a pointed message to Washington about Hizbullah's power in Lebanon and its ability to defend itself against what it sees as external threats.

The collapse of the Government followed the failure of nearly six months of Saudi-Syrian mediation between Hariri and Hizbullah. But once reports emerged that the talks had broken down, and with indictments likely to be issued soon, Hizbullah had to up the ante.

Hizbullah's decision to withdraw its support for the Government for the second time would not have been taken lightly. The party does, after all, hanker for political respectability and inclusiveness, and causing two governments to fall runs counter to that. But when what it believes are its core interests are threatened, Hizbullah has shown a willingness to act unilaterally. And the reputational damage it suffers as a result of the resignations are nothing compared to how it could suffer if the STL is not neutered.

In that sense, the Government collapse can be seen as just one more step in the bargaining process. Cabinet had effectively been in permanent recess, having met for only three hours in the past two months. A caretaker government will now likely be put in place, and while there is no obvious candidate among the Sunni community to take over as prime minister, if Sa'ad Hariri passes, a more pliant Sunni politician may well be found. (And as Fouad Siniora found out, being caretaker prime minister doesn't give you a lot of bargaining power.)

Hizbullah has ratcheted up the pressure on the March 14 coalition to enter into a compromise over the STL. This compromise will almost certainly be to Hizbullah and its allies' advantage. Hariri's opportunity to make the silkiest purse out of this sow's ear has passed. Given what has precipitated this crisis, it is impossible not to have sympathy for the choices Sa'ad Hariri is facing.

Photo by Flickr user yeowatzup.

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