There is no doubt that the power balance in Lebanon favors the Iranian empire; its proxy, Hezbollah, has a strong presence because of its weapons, power and control over political and security decisions, while the opposing group’s power is limited to disruption through acts such as this resignation. It remains to be seen what this confrontation will bring, and where it will lead in the near future.
Today it is clear that Hariri — who announced his resignation in Riyadh, which had great symbolic meaning — is not going back to Beirut soon. He said he feared for his life in Lebanon. It is impossible to ignore such talk of an assassination attempt, and not to take it seriously. Recent history is a witness, and the victims of assassination have not been gone that long, which makes the physical threat a decisive issue. However, it was not the only factor that led to the resignation.
The country has been in a state of shock since Hariri’s announcement, and the idea is prevalent that Lebanon has entered a confrontation with no way of turning back. The president and speaker said the situation required no reaction, but rather a lot of thinking about the consequences of taking a view — especially since the Lebanese lira, the only indicator that the country is capable of coping in a crisis such as this, is under some pressure.
Hariri’s resignation means that the caretaker government, whose term is expected to be extended, will remain with no prime minister, which will trigger some constitutional and political questions. If the resignation’s goal was to confront the Iranian power bloc with a vacuum, the situation might escalate as Sunni ministers in the Cabinet could abstain from their duties, which would complicate the situation even further.
The president’s position will not be easy, as he is a partner in the executive. When it comes to the appointment of a new prime minister, choosing someone less representative of the Sunni community would represent a setback. It would place the cabinet in a fragile position, and ministers would find it difficult, perhaps impossible, to retain their credibility in Parliament. Jokes and rumors are already circulating about who is going to replace Hariri. One message on Whatsapp suggested that the former Prime Minister Najib Mikati “has sent his suit to the dry cleaners” in preparation.
The resignation of Saad Hariri signals a new period of confrontation in Lebanon, and it is no coincidence that he announced it in Riyadh.
In fact, it seems impossible at the moment that any Sunni politician would care to fill the position, because in doing so they would put themselves in confrontation with Saudi Arabia and the Arab coalition against Iran. That means an extension of the caretaker government for an indefinite period, and an impasse in the prime ministerial role.
It is likely that Tehran and its local allies have started looking for an exit strategy, but the confrontation this time is in the open. Hariri’s resignation is part of it, and Lebanon seems to be the weakest link. Saudi Arabia appears to feel that the official position of Lebanon in this confrontation is not in its interests. That is why it has chosen Lebanon as the platform for a direct and different kind of confrontation with Tehran.
• Diana Moukalled is a veteran journalist with extensive experience in both traditional and new media. She is also a columnist and freelance documentary producer. Twitter: @dianamoukalled