Lebanon rivals form unity government


After a months-long deadlock, Lebanon’s rival political camps agreed to a unity government that includes both American-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim political party and militia that the United States considers a terrorist organization.

Resolution of Lebanon’s political crisis could ease regional tensions between U.S.-backed Sunni Arab states on the one hand and Iran and Syria, which back Hezbollah, on the other. But the question of Hezbollah’s arsenal -- which is in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions -- will probably remain unresolved in the short term.

Israel last week seized what it claimed were Hezbollah-bound weapons from Iran found aboard a vessel headed to Lebanon. Hezbollah denies the charge.


Israel and Hezbollah fought a war in 2006 that ended inconclusively but led to increased demands for the militia’s disarmament.

Amid a recent surge in rocket attacks and mysterious explosions along the Israeli-Lebanese border, some worry that another war between Hezbollah and Israel is looming.

Lebanon is a kaleidoscope of religious communities divided politically into two camps -- one led by Hezbollah and the other by Hariri, who is close to Saudi Arabia as well as the U.S.

Hariri, a Sunni, and his Christian allies defeated a Hezbollah-led coalition in June 7 elections, but he ultimately agreed to give the opposition the Cabinet seats it had demanded, including the Telecommunications Ministry.

Both sides claimed the compromise hammered out over the weekend is a victory for ordinary Lebanese.

Parliament now must approve the list of Cabinet members, which includes representatives from most of the country’s major religious groups.


Lebanon has long been a battleground for regional powers. The government deal came days after the ruler of Qatar, which brokered a 2008 truce between Lebanese rivals, met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran. It also followed signs of detente between Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Walid Jumblatt, leader of Lebanon’s Druze community, said the government would focus on improving public services, reducing national debt and developing rural areas.

But many predict it will lack the credibility or authority to make any decisive moves, whether on the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons or on such mundane matters as the country’s sky-high cellphone rates.

“If the government took this long to form, it will be a sluggish one in terms of decision-making,” said Paul Salem, a Beirut-based Middle East expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think tank.

“This government is beyond a government of rivals,” he said. “It is more like a government of enemies, and the opposition inside the government will likely fight . . . at every turn.”


Lutz is a special correspondent. Special correspondent Alexandra Sandels in Beirut contributed to this report.