News Analysis: New Lebanese gov't may stabilize relations with Israel: analysts

14:53, June 15, 2011      

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by Adam Gonn

After five months of haggling, Lebanon once again has a new government.

The new Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, was the preferred candidate of the Iranian and Syrian-backed Hezbollah movement. The previous government led by western and Saudi Arabian-backed Saad Hariri collapsed in January over disagreements of how to deal with a United Nations tribunal looking into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Saad's father.

Israel and Lebanon have had a violent recent history, including two wars with Hezbollah, and a lengthy Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon.

In his public statements Mikati said, "let us go to work immediately according to the principles and basis that we have affirmed our commitment to several times, namely ... defending Lebanon's sovereignty and its independence and liberating land that remains under the occupation of the Israeli enemy."

Analysts said that Hezbollah now has become part of the government doesn't automatically lead to a rise in tensions between the countries; on the contrary, Hezbollah would now have a national responsibility, not just for its supporters as in the past, and this may have a calming effect.


Prof. Moshe Maoz, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told Xinhua that Israel has already reacted to what's going on in Lebanon with a strong sense of suspicion.

Maoz said that while the Israeli government may argue that the new coalition is pro-Iran and that Hezbollah's policies are now the official policies of Lebanon, it's not a complete picture yet as there are several other political and ethnic groups that have influence, as well.

"Hezbollah has an impact, but they haven't taken over yet," Maoz said.

Asked whether or not there is a possibility that a new Hezbollah-dominated government may have a calming effect on Israeli-Lebanese relations, due to having to take into consideration the good of all citizens, instead of only its followers as previously, Maoz said that it depended on the type of event.

"In regular relations between Israel and Lebanon, they will have a responsibility," Maoz said. "But if there is a war between Iran and Israel, they (Lebanon) will be on the Iranians side."


Dr. Mordechai Kedar, of Bar-Ilan University, said that the most significant development with the new government was that Hezbollah now was part of it, as opposed to previously when the organization could only influence politics from the outside.

Kedar argued that the new government could be a good thing "if it takes into consideration the interests of the Lebanese, instead of how to fight Israel."

He added that if it focuses on peaceful living inside the country and with Israel, this will promote stability in the Middle East.

However, Kedar also said that though Israel is an "illegal entity" in the eyes of Hezbollah, he has little hope that this would actually be the case. And even if the territorial disputes along the border were to be solved someday, Hezbollah would continue to claim that there were additional territories under the Israeli occupation, according to Kedar.


While the new government may have strong internal backing, said Dr. Ely Karmon of the Institute for Counter Terrorism at the Inter- Disciplinary Center in Herzliya, there are two questions that could affect its stability.

"This government will be tested by two events, first of all by what is happening in Syria," Karmon said, and "the second issue is the international tribunal on the Hariri assassination."

Syria has traditionally been a strong backer of Hezbollah, but at the moment the regime is facing a uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, which is currently the main focus of the regime.

Rafik Hariri was killed in 2005 when a large bomb exploded as his motorcade passed by. A UN-appointed prosecutor was supposed to file his report earlier this year, but the decision has repeatedly been postponed.

It is believed that the report would finger Hezbollah as being behind the attack and that Lebanon would be asked to hand over the suspects to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, a move opposed by Hezbollah.

Karmon also mused that there wouldn't be any trial for the assassination in Lebanon.

Source: Xinhua
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