Political Shifts in Lebanon / Nasrallah, the Street and Iran

Iran and Saudi Arabia might still be able to stop the display of force threatening to break out in Lebanon's streets in the wake of the resignation of Hezbollah and Amal ministers.

Each one, however, affects only one of the rival parties. Saudi Arabia has influence over the majority in the cabinet, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and parliamentary majority leader Sa'ad Hariri, while Iran can sway Hezbollah and Amal. Only the countries of influence can solve the crisis now. If they do not act swiftly to bring about a compromise, the street demonstrations that Hezbollah is threatening to catalyze will begin with demands for a national unity government in which Hezbollah and Amal hold one-third of the cabinet seats and the attendant veto power. Those demands could develop into pressure for new elections, violent clashes and perhaps even the renewal of civil war.

The cabinet crisis began brewing this summer at the end of the war and expanded to its current proportions as the date approached for putting together the international tribunal for those charged with Rafik Hariri's murder. On Friday, when the United Nations submitted its final draft on the court, the political crisis had clearly reached the point of no return.

While Siniora and the anti-Syrian majority had approved the UN resolution in principle, the pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, together with Hezbollah and Amal, rejected it. They want to postpone the tribunal's creation or at least set the terms of its activity. But the tribunal flap is only another pretext, that cannot hide the real reason for the crisis initiated by Hassan Nasrallah. The secretary-general of Hezbollah seeks to create a new government in Lebanon that is based on a Shi'ite coalition allied with Lebanese Christian leader Michel Aoun, to reduce the power of Hariri-supporter and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. This would also guarantee Lahoud's continued presidency.

Nasrallah is launching a conceptual revolution to vault Hezbollah into the center of power through political, rather than military, means. Whether or not Siniora and his allies accede to Nasrallah's demands, and whether or not new elections are held, Nasrallah now has the power to delay several critical measures. In addition to the suspension of the tribunal, the meeting of donor nations on Lebanon's post-war rehabilitation may be postponed in the absence of a responsible government, and in the future Nasrallah may be able to change the terms for implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1701.