x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

In Lebanon, patrons must keep promises

Patronage is often a part of Lebanese politics. For better or for worse, political parties within Lebanon frequently rely on foreign powers for assistance; stability within Lebanon¿s borders often hinges on compromises far beyond them.

Patronage is often a part of Lebanese politics. For better or for worse, political parties within Lebanon frequently rely on foreign powers for assistance; stability within Lebanon's borders often hinges on compromises far beyond them.

So it comes as little surprise - but not without a few raised eyebrows - that the Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri, has travelled to Iran for consultations with that country's leaders for the first time. Many expect Mr Hariri to seek a commitment to Lebanon's stability from Tehran.

Iran has significant sway over Hizbollah, the militant Shiite movement. Indictments against members of the group are expected to arrive soon from the UN Special Tribunal investigating the murder of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. How Hizbollah reacts to these indictments will be a test of both Hizbollah's maturity and of Lebanon's stability.

Hizbollah has long been rumoured to have participated in the assassination in 2005. These claims were supported by a recent report from the Canadian Broadcasting Company that offered more evidence of the group's involvement.

Since 2005, Hizbollah has made every attempt to duck culpability and the international condemnation that would follow. Hassan Nasrallah, the group's charismatic leader, has tried to dodge judgement in a number of ways. This year he has tried to implicate Israel in the killing of Rafik Hariri and has urged members of the Lebanese government and others not to cooperate with the Tribunal. As a threat and as a means of flexing Hizbollah's military might, the group even published a detailed description in Al Akhbar of how it would seize government buildings in Beirut. So while Hizbollah has brought the concerns of Lebanese Shiites to the fore, the group's penchant to threaten violence has shown that its understanding of its responsibilities has not grown alongside its influence.

Tehran, for its part, decries the Tribunal, but has said it will not interfere with the internal affairs of Lebanon. As Mr Hariri secures that promise, it will ultimately fall upon Mr Nasrallah to honour it.