Hezbollah Has Emerged as Lebanon's Real Victor

Nasrallah took a significant gamble: winning political power without openly using force.

Various protests raged across the Middle East on Tuesday, in what appeared to be an indirect continuation of the recent revolution in Tunisia. In Lebanon, masses took to the streets to protest the decision to have a Hezbollah-backed politician form a new Lebanese government. In Egypt, crowds came in droves to stage the country's largest protests since Hosni Mubarak took over as president in 1981.

As for the Palestinian Authority, tensions still loomed following the release earlier this week of documents leaked by Al Jazeera TV, exposing details of the ongoing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Hezbollah scored a major victory on Tuesday when its ally, Najib Mikati, was asked by Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman to form a new government. This move marks another stage in the gradual revolution unfolding in Lebanon, with the assistance of Iran and Syria - even though all sides appear to be interested in avoiding a direct clash that would lead to civil war.

Suleiman announced that Mikati, a 55-year-old Sunni businessman from Tripoli who served as interim prime minister for three months in the past, will be forming the new government of Lebanon. The announcement followed Hezbollah's success in rallying 68 parliamentarians in favor of Mikati, against only 60 who supported the rival March 14 camp - which supported outgoing Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

Tuesday's protests in Lebanon were mostly a release of pent up anger, but it soon became apparent to the Lebanese Sunnis and Christians that the Shi'ite Muslim organization had managed to take over the country legally. The thousands who took to the streets burned pictures of Mikati, threw stones at army and police officers and attacked Al Jazeera crews, as they consider the TV station a proxy of Hezbollah.

For his part, Mikati said he would begin work on forming a government tomorrow. Even though he has not been officially appointed yet, Mikati is expected to succeed in putting together a government with relative ease considering the majority he is guaranteed in the parliament.

Suleiman's announcement came on a particularly difficult day in Lebanon, with tens of thousands of March 14 alliance supporters taking to the streets of Beirut and Tripoli to protest what they described as the Iranian and Syrian takeover of Lebanon.

Protesters clashed with the Lebanese army forces and nearly 30 people reportedly suffered injuries. The demonstrators called on the international tribunal investigating the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, father of the outgoing premier, to remain steadfast in its task until the truth emerges.

The Hague-based panel's investigation provided the spark for the latest political drama in Lebanon, with Hezbollah fearing the tribunal would finger senior members of its organization for being behind the February 2005 blast that killed Rafik Hariri. The group demanded that Saad Hariri reject the panel's conclusions and end government funding for its work.

The outgoing prime minister refused and mediation efforts launched by Syria and Saudi Arabia failed as well, resulting in the resignation of 11 Hezbollah-backed ministers from the cabinet and bringing the Lebanese government down.

Initially, Saad Hariri had hoped to gain a majority in the parliament so that the Lebanese president would ask him to form a government once again. But when the leader of the country's Druze community, Walid Jumblatt, decided to back the Hezbollah candidate and offered the backing of eight more parliamentarians representing his community, Mikati emerged as the winner in the contest.

No direct impact on Israel

At this stage, the assessment in Israel is that the political developments in Lebanon have no direct implications for the situation along the tenuous border. Israeli intelligence assessments hold that Hezbollah's priority is domestic issues and that in view of its latest success, the group has no interest in renewed clashes with Israel.

Israeli intelligence has been following developments in Lebanon closely, but there has been no unusual movement of IDF forces to the border.

The new Military Intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, said Tuesday during his first appearance before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, that Hezbollah is still deterred from launching another round of fighting with the Israeli army in light of the results of the Second Lebanon War.

According to Kochavi, Hezbollah will opt not to take over Lebanon completely because it does not want to find itself in a situation similar to that of Hamas after it took over the Gaza Strip in 2007.

The MI chief also noted that Syria has once again become active in influencing political developments inside Lebanon. But the great victor in Lebanon is Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who took a significant gamble: winning political power without openly using force.

In a videotaped address to thousands of supporters Tuesday, Nasrallah appeared pleased. Hezbollah opponents could not claim that the Shi'ite militia had used force in removing a political rival.