Hezbollah’s Power Play

Once again, Lebanon faces an internal crisis, generated by the collapse of the government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri (who followed in his father Rafik’s footsteps after his assassination) following the withdrawal of Hezbollah and its allies from the coalition. Mr. Hariri will continue to head a caretaker government until a new one is constituted, but his ability to maneuver in the meanwhile, let alone govern, will be vastly reduced. More importantly, he will be facing immediate and uncomfortable choices. In this crisis, Hezbollah has been the key driver.

With all the risks for everyone involved, Hezbollah has retained the upper hand, even as the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister is under review at a UN tribunal. The demographics inside Lebanon are on the side of its Shia base. The internal distribution of power is also decidedly in its favor. Politically, Hezbollah managed to assert itself in both the previous ruling coalition and the current March 14 coalition by exercising its military superiority in the confrontations of 2008. Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah continues to be among the most popular in the Arab world—with his opponents looking weaker by the day through the continuous revelations coming out of WikiLeaks. Expected new releases about the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah conflict are likely to play into Hezbollah’s hands in the war over Arab public opinion as well.

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