Analysis: Sustaining the status quo

Media and politicians label next Lebanese prime minister a "moderate," say Tammam Salam may be spared wrath of Hezbollah.

Tammam Salam  (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir )
Tammam Salam
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir )
Media reports and local politicians describe the newly appointed Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam as a “moderate,” meaning he will most likely maintain the status quo and not cross any red lines of any one political faction.
The fact that Salam was chosen to form the next government demonstrates that Hezbollah was not able to force a more preferred choice into the position. Salam is a Sunni – a requirement for the prime minister position – who identifies most closely with the March 14 forces made up mainly of anti-Hezbollah Sunnis and Christians.
Salam’s “moderate” position as a status quo figure was illustrated in his recent statement: “I’m very clear about the resistance [Hezbollah]. The resistance is a national need in the face of all the threats we get from Israel, but that is something, and using the arms of the resistance internally is something else,” according to a report in The Daily Star on Monday.
He went on to state, “Even in the resistance field, the decision to make war or peace should be a national decision, not a factional decision.”
In this statement, Salam wanted to express his acceptance of the resistance while rejecting it at the same time, and qualifying his support for Hezbollah’s armed fighters with the caveat that they are aimed at Israel and not domestic targets. Then, in the same breath, he went on to muddy the waters by implying that Hezbollah cannot go to war against Israel without the approval of his government and the other factions.
He did the same when speaking about the war in Syria. In an interview on Saturday with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International (LBCI), Salam said that while he supported the Syrian Sunni rebel fighters, Lebanon should stay out of the Syrian crisis.
How he plans on dealing with his cognitive dissonance is yet to be seen.
The choice of Salam seems to be an effort to temporarily ease sectarian tensions in the country and go through the motions of negotiating a new government, seeking to confine disagreements to the negotiating table, for the time being, and prevent a fullblown conflict in the streets.
This reshuffling of the deck comes after several failed attempts of governing by former prime minister Najib al- Mikati.
Hezbollah prevented Mikati from doing anything that seriously challenged its own interests.
The suspected Hezbollah assassination in 2012 of Wissam al-Hassan, the director of the intelligence branch of Lebanon’s internal security forces, and the obstruction of appointments of certain people to government security positions effectively paralyzed Mikati from doing anything the terrorist organization did not like.
According to an article by Bilal Y. Saab in Foreign Affairs, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the US pressured Mikati to continue as prime minister in order to maintain stability. But his reputation with his Sunni base was crumbling and as a result of his catering to Hezbollah’s wishes, he resigned.
However, Saab goes on to say that the Shi’ite party is misreading the situation.
“Hezbollah is on the verge of losing one major regional ally if [Syrian President] Bashar Assad goes.... Further, a confrontation between Iran and Israel and the United States over the nuclear issue could spell doom for the Shi’a party.”
Hezbollah’s fear of losing its status, Saab wrote, has it working full-time to eliminate its opponents. This, despite having failed to understand that, because of Lebanon’s divided demographics, it is impossible for the country to enforce its will.
With the terror group wanting to focus with Iran on preventing Assad’s fall, it does not currently want to open other fronts.
The London-based Arab daily Al-Hayat carried an article on Sunday saying that Hezbollah accepted Salam’s appointment as a pragmatic move because he is seen as a figure who will not make provocative moves – meaning no big changes to the status quo.
“The consensus over designating Beirut MP Tammam Salam to form the next Lebanese government shows that all sides at the moment want to avoid any confrontation or escalation inside the country,” the article stated.
So, for the moment, the situation in Lebanon is on pause while Hezbollah and the opposition within the country continue their efforts at supporting their respective allies in the Syrian conflict.