New government shows Hezbollah ‘takeover of Lebanon is complete’

1 / 2
Lebanese anti-government protesters burn a police tent near the parliament during clashes with riot police. (AFP)
2 / 2
Short Url
Updated 23 January 2020

New government shows Hezbollah ‘takeover of Lebanon is complete’

  • Marwan Hamade: Now Hezbollah completes its takeover through the new government where we find the fingerprints of the Syrian regime
  • Road to economic recovery will not be easy, warns Lebanese PM Hassan Diab

BEIRUT/PARIS: The formation of a Lebanese government headed by Hassan Diab showed that “Hezbollah has completed its takeover of the Lebanese state,” former minister Marwan Hamade told Arab News.
Hamade, a leading member of Lebanon’s Druze, led by Walid Jumblatt, said that Hezbollah regained a parliamentary majority in 2018 thanks to an electoral law designed to benefit the pro-Iranian party.
“Now Hezbollah completes its takeover through the new government where we find the fingerprints of the Syrian regime. The majority of the new ministers in key positions depend either on Hezbollah or on the former security chief, the pro-Syrian Jamil Sayyed, or on Gebran Bassil, their ally,” he said.
Hamade said that the new government will face the same factional tensions and rivalries as previous leaderships, with a pro-Iranian Syrian faction controlling the state along with factions allied to Hezbollah.
The focus will be on Lebanese central bank governor Riad Salame. “They hold him responsible for implementing US sanctions on Hezbollah, and there is a tendency to make him pay and to destroy the financial sector. Lebanon is turning into a battle front in the conflict between the US and Iran,” Hamade said.




Marwan Hamade, a leading member of Lebanon’s Druze, said that Hezbollah regained a parliamentary majority in 2018 thanks to an electoral law designed to benefit the pro-Iranian party. (YouTube Screengrab)

Asked about the new foreign minister, Nassif Hitti, a former Arab League envoy, Hamade said: “Hitti will be able to do minor things through his personality, but Lebanese policy and diplomacy will not be within his hands — regrettably it will be in Hezbollah’s.”
After the first meeting of Lebanon’s newly formed Cabinet on Wednesday, Prime Minister Hassan Diab attempted to reassure the public that their concerns are being addressed, but warned that there would be no quick solution to the “economic catastrophe” the country is facing.
The new coalition government was formed on Tuesday after almost 100 days of widespread public protests about the state of the economy, corruption, high unemployment and a lack of basic services, The majority of its 20 ministers belong to Hezbollah and its allies. Its announcement was greeted by calls for further protests by those skeptical of its ability to take the action needed to address the problems it has inherited, the greatest of which include the need to resolve the economic crisis and a lack of confidence in the government, at home and abroad, which is stifling investment.
Diab tried to reassure the public after the Cabinet’s first session that it is up to the job. He said he has already met many foreign ambassadors and all had shown “willingness to cooperate.”
He added: “We are facing a financial and economic catastrophe that needs a long time to be resolved and I am sure that each of the ministers is aware of this.”
Diab also called on the security forces to “deal wisely with the protests and differentiate between riots and peaceful protests.”
He also revealed that Riad Salameh, the governor of Lebanon’s central bank had not been fired. He did, however, acknowledge that some coalition parties, and many of the protesters, blame Salameh’s financial machinations for the country’s economic situation.
Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni said: “Lebanon is witnessing a banking, monetary and economic crisis on a scale that has never been seen before. If the crisis persists, we will reach bankruptcy. The government must prepare a comprehensive rescue plan or program.
“The country is in a state of economic contraction, and confidence must be restored. The crisis needs external support. We will be in big trouble if the government fails to gain that external support.” He added that it was impossible for Lebanon’s currency to return to it’s previous exchange rate against the dollar.
The new Cabinet includes six women, including Zeina Akar, the minister of defense and deputy prime minister. The prime minister nominated four members of the Cabinet. Of the rest, President Michael Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement supplied six, while Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, the Marada Movement, the Lebanese Democratic Party each supplied two ministers. The Sunni Consultative Gathering and Tashnag each have a single minister.
A Cabinet committee was scheduled to meet on Thursday, and the government is due to present its political, economic and social vision to the parliament for approval. This will require a simple majority, which means 65 votes in total. If it fails to win this vote of confidence, the new administration will become a caretaker government.

After the traditional memorial photo of the new government was taken, parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri expressed his “optimism about the government despite the Lebanese media’s pessimism.”
Diab described it as “the government of exceptions. It is a rescue team. The government’s task is very difficult, but not impossible.”
He promised that it would “work to fulfill the protesters’ demands, and to maintain the independence of the judiciary, recover the looted funds, combat illicit enrichment, protect the poor from tax injustices, fight unemployment, establish a new election law that strengthens national cohesion, and to affirm the principle of accountability that we adhere to and do not fear.”


Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?

Updated 25 May 2020

Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?

  • Ankara’s involvement in Syria’s Idlib province against the Tehran-backed Assad regime has recently provided a common denominator for Turkey and Israel to reconcile
  • Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains a major irritant in relations with Ankara – Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for the Palestinians

ISTANBUL: Israeli airline El Al has resumed cargo flights twice weekly between Tel Aviv and Istanbul for the first time in 10 years — a sign that decade-long bilateral tensions might be easing.
A cargo flight landed in Istanbul on Sunday morning to pick up humanitarian aid and protective equipment destined for US medical teams fighting COVID-19.
Burhanettin Duran, head of the Ankara-based think tank SETA, wrote that Turkey’s regional empowerment is “obliging Israel to search for normalization steps with Ankara.”
Dr. Nimrod Goren, head of the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, said the cargo flight is a positive and visible development in bilateral relations that was probably approved by top government officials on both sides and required diplomatic efforts.
“However, the fact that this step takes place in parallel to a discussion about Israeli annexation in the West Bank, and to criticism of annexation by regional and international actors, might impact how it’s viewed in Turkey,” he told Arab News.
Goren said while the Israeli and Turkish governments continue to have significant policy differences, they should work to restore their relations to ambassadorial level, and to relaunch a strategic dialogue on regional developments of mutual interest.
“The forming of a new Israeli government, and the appointment of Gabi Ashkenazi as a new foreign minister, could be an opportunity to do so, and the cargo flight brings some positive momentum,” he added.
Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador in May 2018 after the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Ankara’s involvement in Syria’s Idlib province against the Tehran-backed Assad regime has recently provided a common denominator for Turkey and Israel to reconcile, as it also serves the latter’s strategic interests in weakening the Iranian presence in Syria.
But Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains a major irritant in relations with Ankara. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for the Palestinians. 
In a video message on Twitter, he said the issue of Jerusalem “is a red line for all Muslims worldwide.”
He added that Israel’s “new occupation and annexation project … disrespects Palestine’s sovereignty and international law.”
Ryan Bohl, Middle East analyst at geopolitical-risk firm Stratfor, told Arab News: “Turkey is trying to create economic ties with Israel because … Erdogan is finding the political ground changed, caused in part by demographic changes as young Turks are less incensed by the Palestinian issue, and in part by a general weariness among Turks about putting too much skin in the game to solve the Palestinian question,” 
Israel is expected to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank on July 1 under the terms of a coalition government agreement. Ankara has strongly criticized the plan.
Israeli and Turkish officials are rumored to have held talks behind closed doors to reach a deal on maritime borders and exclusive economic zones in the eastern Mediterranean. 
Israel’s Foreign Ministry recently said it was “proud of our diplomatic relations with Turkey.”
But Goren said it is currently unlikely that Israel will advance a maritime demarcation deal with Turkey as it would shake several regional balances at the same time.
“It will put in jeopardy, and run in contrast to, the important alliances in the eastern Mediterranean that Israel has fostered in recent years with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt,” he added.