Hezbollah contains its Christian ally and keeps Lebanon under control

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Hezbollah contains its Christian ally and keeps Lebanon under control

Lebanon has managed to overcome a verbal clash between its Minister of Foreign Affairs Gebran Bassil, who is supported by his father-in-law and President Michel Aoun, and the Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who is backed by Hezbollah. The clash started when Bassil described Berri as a “bully” in a video that was leaked last week, triggering a mini street war.
In two days of partisan and media incitement, people spilled out on to the streets and showed the extent to which the alliance between the Amal Movement and Hezbollah on one side and Aoun’s Christian Free Patriotic Movement on the other side is abnormal in the Lebanese context. 
The hysteria mobilized youngsters from the Amal Movement to take to the streets with the aim of attacking the FPM headquarters. The FPM’s supporters have allowed such behavior in the past, when they opened the roads to these youngsters and removed all barriers in previous moments of anger. They allied with them during the elections and contributed to an occupation of the center of Beirut. But the alliance ended, and this was the supporters of the Amal Movement saying that they are the masters of the street and that the authority of President Aoun ends as soon as they decide. They say that the security forces are mere observers.
In spite of the populist blackmailing, which was performed last week through the emoting of the crowds and media campaigns, the tension was eased and overcome. Hezbollah even announced its continued commitment to its 12-year-old alliance with the FPM. It seems Hezbollah tolerated Bassil’s statements, in which he said: “Unfortunately, Hezbollah is taking options which do not serve the interests of the Lebanese state, and all of Lebanon is paying the price for that.” Hezbollah had already tolerated another statement by Bassil, in which he said “we don’t have an ideological dispute with Israel.”

Group tolerates controversial comments by Foreign Minister Bassil, hinting at a change in direction ahead of potential further US sanctions and the upcoming general election.

Diana Moukalled

So why did Hezbollah tolerate what was said by its Christian ally? And what if another Lebanese faction used the same words as Bassil; for example, what if Prime Minister Saad Hariri had said that? He and any other politician would have been accused of national betrayal, to say the least. Hezbollah had mobilized its media arsenal to incite people against a movie by Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri, accusing him of normalizing Israel by filming there, but it tolerated everything that was said by Bassil.
This presumed indulgence hints that some changes must have obliged Hezbollah to smooth over one of the most dangerous moments its alliance with Aoun has seen. Hezbollah intervened and the outcome of the clash between Bassil and Berri was decided in favor of the minister. This indicates that Hezbollah wishes to suggest that its alliance with Aoun doesn’t mean a complete adherence to its positions. 
This change in Hezbollah’s direction serves two purposes: The first is external in light of anticipated new American sanctions against Lebanon due to the insistence of the international community, and Europe in particular, that the government distances itself from Hezbollah’s regional agendas. The second purpose relates to the upcoming general election, as Bassil is expected to harvest votes as he challenges his opponents on their messages focusing on the weapons of Hezbollah.
There are some indications that there isn’t an essential conflict between the two sides, and that Hezbollah gave Bassil the green light in order to provide the president with a wider margin of maneuver — especially given that Lebanon is on the verge of further US sanctions that will not distinguish between Hezbollah and the Lebanese economy. What enhances this probability is that there is an overwhelming international desire to develop a Lebanese direction that diverges from that of Hezbollah and Iran, but it seems that we have not yet reached that moment and Lebanon is still under control.
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
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