Funding the STL: Mikati’s Gains, Hezbollah’s Losses, and the Role of Syria

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A billboard shows Lebanese former slain Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, set near his grave during the sixth anniversary of his assassination, in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, 14 Feb. 2011. (Photo: AP - Grace Kassab)

By: Fidaa Itani

Published Thursday, December 1, 2011

One can imagine the joy that Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati felt on Wednesday as he succeeded in finding a way to pay Lebanon’s share of funding for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) while avoiding a collapse of his government .

In the end, the money came out of the prime minister’s budget. Mikati’s government survived and the country as whole probably dodged a bullet, given the cataclysmic events the region as a whole is going through.

Apparently, there is a consensus to preserve stability in Lebanon. The United States, Saudi Arabia, Western Europe -- at least Britain and France -- as well as the “axis of evil” -- Iran, Syria, and their Lebanese allies -- all seem to agree that Lebanon should be spared a new political shock.

When Mikati became prime minister on January 25 of this year, he had no idea that in a few days the Egyptian regime would fall and the Arab region would undergo the most dramatic transformation since the beginning of the 20th century.

Mikati thought that he would probably oversee what can be considered a transitional period after the Saad Harriri government was brought down by Hezbollah and its allies.

At first the international community chose to turn a blind eye to the power shift, even though it meant that Syria’s influence in Lebanon would likely increase. But before the new Lebanese government would be formed, it became clear that the world was changing and that new balance of power should be re-examined.

It was not long before the unrest reached Syria. As the protest movement there grew and spread, the international community tightened the screws on Damascus. Many became convinced that the turmoil next door would soon spread to Lebanon.

When the time came to fund the STL, it appeared that the various sides were too far apart for a compromise to be reached.

On one side, there was Mikati who pledged to the international community that he plans to fund the tribunal. The two dominant parties in his cabinet -- Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Hezbollah -- were adamantly opposed. While a third party -- the ousted March 14 forces -- piled on the pressure, hoping that the government will collapse.

During this period what was expected from all the parties involved was to maintain stability in Lebanon at all costs. Mikati was expected to safeguard the nation as a fire blazed across the region. Hezbollah’s General Secretary Hassan Nasrallah was doing his best to make the prime minister’s job easy in order to preserve the fragile government.

As the question of funding the tribunal got more complicated, the choices became more limited. Lebanon would either pay up or the government will collapse, there seemed to be no middle ground.

The only solution was for the power-broker in Damascus to find a way out. Such a move on the part of Syria would be seen as a goodwill gesture on its behalf and that of its Lebanese and Iranian allies as well. Rumors began to circulate in Beirut about an implicit Syrian position supporting funding of the tribunal.

Even after Mikati publicly declared his ultimatum live on Lebanese television, some in Hezbollah were unmoved, for they saw that the party’s overwhelming priority was to discredit the tribunal even if it meant the collapse of the government.

For their part, Arab countries that had taken a hard line on Damascus made it known, through informal channels, that there was still room for dialogue and that the planned economic sanctions against Syria can be stopped if the regime allows observers into the country.

This line was able to connect between the positions of Hezbollah and the FPM, on one hand, and Mikati, on the other. The prime minister was thus able to score several points:

1. He dealt a blow to the Future Movement’s Tripoli Rally, stealing its thunder and neutralizing its impact.

2. He preserved his image as a statesman especially in the West.

3. He proved his ability to maneuver and to persuade his allies, even if it is by threatening to resign, to make substantial sacrifices on strategic matters in return for stability.

4. He guaranteed his position as a prime minister for some time to come, with local and international support.

5. He can now claim that he is empowering the position of the Sunni prime minister.

6. He dealt a major blow to Hariri who was willing to compromise on financing the tribunal in exchange for maintaining his position as prime minister, whereas Mikati was willing to give up power for the sake of the STL.

7. He put March 14 forces in an awkward position despite their protestations at the way the STL was funded. There is no doubt that these forces need to re-examine their agenda and their discourse at this point.

The biggest loser in the funding compromise is Hezbollah, which made a huge concession, whether at the behest of Damascus or out of personal conviction. In any case, the party acted against its self-interest in return for maintaining stability in the country.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

Really, did Hizbullah really lose? i think not. Unity and stability at all costs. Being Shi'ites, i think they have learned from the history of Imam Ali (as), that at times you have to sacrifice, (not lose) to maintain your Unity and stability, so that your enemies do not have an oppoprtunity to exploit your divisions or in-fighting.
Lebanon, after a very long time, is experiencing some form of calm, to destabilise this nascent privilege would have long term devastating effects. So hands up to Hizbullah, who have once again proven their sincerity in wanting to establish a strong, independent and peaceful government and country!

The biggest loser in the funding compromise is Hezbollah, which made a huge concession, whether at the behest of Damascus or out of personal conviction. In any case, the party acted against its self-interest in return for maintaining stability in the country.

as they always do. but I don't know why anyone would think that Hezbollah was so gung-ho about it. I mean obviously they would have to register their disapproval as did the FPM, but they weren't gonna let that issue destabilize the whole region. I mean they've made bigger compromises before for the sake of regional stability. And please, they don't need the "behest of syria" to make that decsion. I think Hezbollah is a little more sophisticated than the syrian decision makers in that is they're more responsive to the political arena than their syrian allies are.

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