Hariri’s resignation

“There is no great significance from this for Israel, because no one – at this time – is touching Hezbollah or its military strength,” he said.

Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri speaks during a news conference in Beirut (photo credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR / REUTERS)
Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri speaks during a news conference in Beirut
(photo credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR / REUTERS)
What are the ramifications of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignation on Tuesday for Lebanon, the region and especially Israel?
Itzhak Levanon, a former ambassador and head of the North Africa and Lebanon desk at the Foreign Ministry, told Jerusalem Post diplomatic reporter Herb Keinon that the move is unlikely to have an immediate impact on Israel.
“There is no great significance from this for Israel, because no one – at this time – is touching Hezbollah or its military strength,” he said. “The time might come, but no one is talking about it now.”
But other Israeli officials voiced concern, off the record, that Lebanon could be plunged into chaos. They noted that Hariri’s resignation was triggered by a Hezbollah rampage through the main protest camp in Beirut, and warned that a Hezbollah takeover of Lebanon could pose a serious threat to its southern neighbor.
While Hariri, they say, was not exactly a friend of Israel, Hezbollah is an openly hostile terrorist organization bent on destroying the Jewish state; and if Lebanese President Michel Aoun hands over the reins to Hezbollah, Israel could face a major escalation on its northern border.
Hariri stepped down after two weeks of growing antigovernment protests amid the country’s worst economic crisis since its civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 1990. As Aoun deliberated over whom to appoint in his place, or whether to call new elections, the political uncertainty in the troubled country is a cause for concern.
“I’m at a dead end,” Hariri said in his resignation speech. “Jobs come and go, but what’s important is the country. No one’s bigger than the nation.”
The New York Times noted that he was echoing the words of his late father, Rafik Hariri, the prime minister assassinated in 2005. In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus urged Lebanon’s president and other politicians to heed the call of their people.
“Demonstrations in Lebanon over the last 13 days have sent a clear message: the Lebanese people want an efficient & effective government, economic reform, & an end to corruption,” she tweeted. “We call on Lebanon’s political leaders to respond to the needs of its people.”
The demonstrators rejoiced but were not placated by Hariri’s resignation, almost immediately resuming their street protests against the current national-unity government, which is dominated by factions allied with Hezbollah. They had rejected a Hariri plan to establish an emergency cabinet to implement necessary reforms in the country.
The Hezbollah rampage that preceded Hariri’s resignation represented a flexing of muscles by Hassan Nasrallah’s terrorist group and a violent turning point in the nationwide protests against Hariri’s government. But there appeared to be no immediate alternative to Hariri, who was backed by the West.
Aoun is insisting on remaining in office and keeping his son-in-law Gebran Bassil as foreign minister, much to the chagrin of Hezbollah. Aoun was expected to task the outgoing government to continue in a caretaker capacity as he considers his next move. He needs to act soon, because the country’s economic crisis – which has forced the closure of banks, businesses and schools – is threatening to spiral out of control. One option would be for Aoun to reject Hariri’s resignation and urge him to do his best to resolve the crisis.
Levanon warned that if the country descends into chaos, Hezbollah is likely to step in under the pretense of “saving Lebanon from bloodshed.” This would be the worst possible scenario, for Lebanon itself, the region in general and Israel in particular.
Two months ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Nasrallah to “calm down” after he vowed revenge for Israeli strikes on Iranian weapons supplies to Lebanon and Syria, and US officials reportedly pressured Lebanon to rein in Hezbollah to avoid an escalation in violence.
Now, too, the international community must closely monitor the situation in Lebanon, to ensure that the country does not descend into anarchy, and to prevent Hezbollah from seizing control, as Hamas did in Gaza.
The complex and delicate deal that ended Lebanon’s last civil war distributes power among the country’s Shi’ites, Sunnis and Christians. Even if it has led to lengthy periods of political turmoil, this arrangement has, for the most part, maintained internal peace in Lebanon over the last few decades.
The most menacing scenario is that Iran could exploit the current instability and, through its proxy Hezbollah, take over Lebanon. This would spell trouble for Israel, and not just Israel.