Supporters of independent parliamentary candidate Joumana Haddad attend a protest in Beirut, Lebanon May 7, 2018..
(photo credit: JAMAL SAIDI/ REUTERS)
The victory of Hezbollah’s allies will only slightly strengthen the movement and should not be interpreted as a decisive victory, Prof. Eyal Zisser said on Tuesday.
The average Lebanese is focused on domestic issues, and both Hezbollah and Iran likely prefer that the quiet continue along the Israeli border, Zisser argued, tamping down suggestions that the election was a regional game changer.
Zisser, a vice rector of Tel Aviv University and former director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, is an expert on Syria and Lebanon. He spoke on a conference call hosted by the Israel Project, a day after Hezbollah and its allies appeared to triumph in Lebanon’s first election in nine years
. However, Hezbollah itself has barely increased its representation in parliament, because of the sectarian electoral system. Shi’ite parties can only get 27 seats in the 128-member legislature. And Hezbollah campaigns as part of a coalition alongside the Shi’ite Amal party and President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement.
“Hezbollah will continue to behave as if there is no Lebanese state or government, as if it is an independent entity,” Zisser said. He dismissed the notion that Hezbollah “won” the election, arguing that the reality is far more complex. Even Amal, Hezbollah’s ally, opposes the rising strength of Hassan Nasrallah’s armed movement.
Hezbollah is still dependent on its alliances and domestic issues. “Hezbollah has a long way to go on its journey of fulfilling a dream of turning Lebanon into Islamic republic,” he said.
Christians in Lebanon elected their own candidates and Sunnis distanced themselves from Saad Hariri and his pro-Saudi policies. In fact the vote may show that the Lebanese people do not want their country to be a proxy field of battle for Riyadh and Tehran.
Israel and Hezbollah both want the border to remain quiet, as it has been since the 2006 Second Lebanon War. “Hezbollah has no interest in dragging Lebanon into a new war with Israel,” Zisser said.
But that doesn’t mean all is sweetness and light in the north. Israel continues to increase border security, and Lebanon and Israel have a dispute over gas field rights in the Mediterranean. Border and maritime issues require discussions and the US offered last year to play a role.
Hezbollah is also seeking more Iranian assistance in making its missiles more accurate, and Iran is alleged to be setting up more missile factories in Lebanon. “Israel made it clear this could be a cause for a war, and Hezbollah will take this into consideration,” Zisser said.