The exposure of the tunnels dug by Hizbullah into Israeli territory – which constitute a violation of UNSC Resolution 1701 and are further evidence that the organization acts on its own initiative in disregard of the state authorities – sparked criticism against Hizbullah in Lebanon and accusations that it is putting the country at risk. In fact, criticism of the organization has been mounting for several months, with voices claiming that it is using its growing military strength and political clout to impose its will on the country and take independent decisions, both on regional issues such as its involvement in the wars in Syria and Yemen, and on internal Lebanese issues such as the establishment of the future government.
Since the parliamentary elections in May 2018, Lebanese Prime Minister and Al-Mustaqbal movement leader Sa'd Al-Hariri has been trying to form a national unity government incorporating all the major political forces in Lebanon, including Hizbullah. His efforts have so far been unsuccessful, however, partly due to steep conditions presented by Hizbullah regarding the government's makeup, mainly its demand to appoint a Sunni minister from the March 8 Forces, the faction led by Hizbullah. This demand, set out by Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah in a speech on November 10, is perceived by the organization's opponents as an attempt to weaken the rival Al-Mustaqbal faction, which traditionally represents the Sunnis in Lebanon, and even to change the 1989 Taif Agreement, which ended the Lebanese civil war and distributed political, civil, and military authority in the country along sectarian lines. At the same time, this demand is also seen as an artificial excuse manufactured by Hizbullah in order to obstruct the formation of the government in retaliation for the increasing sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Hizbullah and Iran.
This political crisis, which has been ongoing for over six months, has evoked furious responses from Lebanese politicians and columnists, who accuse Hizbullah of serving Iranian interests at the expense of Lebanon's, and also of using its weapons to take over Lebanon and of subordinating it to Iranian patronage. The bleak political climate even cast a pall over Lebanon's 75th Independence Day, marked on November 22, with some calling not to celebrate it because Lebanon is not truly independent. Criticism was also directed at President Michel 'Aoun and at his son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebral Bassil, both of them Hizbullah allies, for allowing Hizbullah to effectively control the country.
This report focuses on the recent criticism of Hizbullah in Lebanon, and on its increasing domination of the country under Iranian sponsorship.
"The Decision To Delay The Formation Of The Government Is Iranian"
For more than six months since the election, Prime Minister Hariri has been holding meetings and discussions in an effort to reach an understanding with both his allies and his rivals on the makeup of the government and the distribution of portfolios – but to no avail. In early November 2018 the sides seemed to be on the verge of agreement when Hizbullah unexpectedly came up with a new condition: that a Sunni member of the March 8 Forces, led by Hizbullah, be appointed minister. Perceived by the Sunni Al-Mustaqbal faction, led by Al-Hariri, as an attempt to weaken the faction and undermine its role as the traditional representative of the Sunnis, this demand precipitated a crisis that is holding up the formation of the government until this time. On this backdrop, many political circles accused Hizbullah of deliberately sabotaging the establishment of the government and paralyzing political life in Lebanon in an attempt to impose compliance with its demands. These circles even accused Hizbullah of violating the Taif Agreement, which regulates the relations between the sects in Lebanon, and which is anchored in the Lebanese constitution.
For example, former Lebanese prime minister Fuad Al-Siniora said in November 2018: "According to what we have heard from several politicians, there is a new phenomenon of changing the Taif Agreement through practical measures. This is a strange and amazing phenomenon, because we have never heard of the constitution being changed through actions [rather than legislation]. The constitution consists of laws, so it cannot be changed [in this way]. This is an innovation by Hizbullah, which does not recognize the constitution or the law."
"Hizbullah" obstructing the establishment of a "Lebanese government" (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, November 26, 2018)
Former minister Ashraf Rifi said in response to Hizbullah's demand to appoint a Sunni minister from the March 8 Forces: "Hizbullah wants to control what is still left of Lebanon's decision-making, for Iran's sake... We say to Nasrallah for the thousandth time: We bow only to God and belong only to Lebanon. Do not delude yourself that by raising your voice you can intimidate the free people [of Lebanon]. Your weapons do not frighten us; we will oppose your plan as long as we live. Lebanon has been hijacked. It is imprisoned by Iran, and it is our responsibility to liberate it. We must oppose the Persian hegemony plan." Former MP Fares Sou'aid likewise responded to Hizbullah's demand, saying: "Hizbullah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah has declared a revolution against the constitution and the Taif Agreement. I call on the two leaders [President 'Aoun and Prime Minister Al-Hariri] to sign an order to form the government, out of respect for the constitution. If you do so, we will support you, and if you don't, you should both resign. Remove the Iranian patronage from Lebanon."
Other figures and columnists drew a connection between the delay in the formation of the government and the sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Hizbullah and its patron Iran, speculating that Hizbullah may be obstructing the establishment of the government in response to these sanctions, at Iran's behest, and that Lebanon is thus paying the price of the alliance between Hizbullah and Iran. Fuad Siniora said: "There may be external reasons [for the delay in the formation of the government], such as an Iranian request that Hizbullah be more rigid in its positions. [Furthermore,] Hizbullah may have manufactured this obstacle on its own initiative out of a wish to appear superior to all the sects and as Lebanon's landlord, in order to make use of this [image] in the international, regional and Lebanese arenas... Hizbullah is acting to impose its rule over Lebanon."
Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces party, said: "For the first time in 40 years, Iran is on the defensive, due to the U.S. sanctions. The escalation [of violence] in Gaza, the impeding of the Iraqi government's activity since its establishment, and the thwarting of the efforts to form a government in Lebanon – all of these are connected to the American pressures on Iran. The establishment of the Lebanese government is not a purely internal matter, but a regional one, and if Iran benefits from obstructing its formation it will act to obstruct it."
Similar claims were made in articles in the Lebanese press. 'Ali Noun, a columnist for the Al-Mustaqbal daily, wrote: "The decision to delay the formation of the government was Iranian... Iran pursues its interests at the expense of [others,] near and far, and builds up these interests upon the ruins of other [countries], and Hizbullah follows its lead, even though this time [this policy] comes not only at the expense of Lebanon and the Lebanese, but also at its own expense and the expense of its people." Journalist Muhammad Qawwas wrote in a similar vein: "In light of the U.S. pressures on Iran and its proxies around the world, Hizbullah decided that a government infiltrated by its [members] is not enough, and there is need for a government it controls in an open and uncontestable manner. That is why it demands that the future government include a representative from among his [March 8] Sunnis."
Journalist Paul Shaul wrote about the Iran-U.S. confrontation: "Just as [Hizbullah] joined the war on the peoples of Syria, Iraq and Yemen and the utopian [vision] of the imperialist Persian Crescent, it is now joining the war between Iran and the world, led by the U.S., at Lebanon's expense and from its territory... Trump's economic sanctions have hurt Iran and are paralyzing its economy, so why shouldn't Hizbullah punish Lebanon... [Hizbullah's current] excuse [for delaying the formation of the government] is its belated and sudden demand [to appoint] a Sunni [minister] from the March 8 Forces, [namely] one of the six [Sunni MPs] from Hizbullah's [electoral] list who won a seat in parliament. This entire artificial affair was apparently manufactured by Hizbullah... in connection with the crises in Iran. For Hizbullah is Iranian in its orientation and identity, so how can it not respect [Iran's] sovereignty and its interests in Lebanon... [?]"
'Awni Al-Ka'ki, editor-in-chief of the Lebanese Al-Sharq daily, which is known for its opposition to Hizbullah, wrote: "Hizbullah has proved that it is unable to let Lebanon form a government without Iran's permission. The problem is that Iran wants to convey to the U.S. that it will not allow a Lebanese government to be formed without its consent... It wants to convey to the U.S. that it is a power in the Middle East that controls four capitals: Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa... Hizbullah is waiting on orders from Tehran, and when Tehran agrees it will come forward and say that it agrees [to form the government]. So it is hiding behind the [excuse of representation for Al-Mustaqbal's] Sunni rivals until the Iran-U.S. [confrontation] is decided.
Al-Hayat columnist Walid Shaqir wrote that Hizbullah is forcing Lebanon into a "political tunnel": "The problem currently afflicting Lebanon is that, in addition to the military tunnels there is also a political tunnel that Hizbullah has excavated for it, namely [Hizbullah's] obstruction of the government formation... Iran and Hizbullah think they can respond to the American siege and the Israeli airstrikes in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon... with [either] political measures or military ones, as necessary. [Iran's] Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps [IRGC] does not mind that these three countries should pay the price of the American pressure on Iran..."
Hizbullah Controls Lebanon By Means Of Its Weapons
Lebanese political circles, especially Christian ones, as well as columnists in the Lebanese press, also accused Hizbullah of using its weapons to do as it pleases in the country. Among the critics was Saydet El-Jabal, an association established in 2006 by the Maronite Church to promote coexistence between Christians and Muslims in Lebanon. In the past months the association has released several communiques accusing Hizbullah of using its arms to impose Iranian sponsorship over Lebanon. In October the association tried to hold a conference on this topic, but hotel owners refused to rent it space, presumably fearing retaliation from Hizbullah. The association eventually held the conference at the Lebanon Press Club, and issued a statement saying as follows: "Lebanon must be an independent sovereign country free of any foreign military presence on its soil or any foreign intervention in its affairs... The legitimate [Lebanese] army is the only force authorized to possess and use arms and to defend Lebanon. Independence must necessarily be the first objective, since without it democracy, reform and development are not possible... Lebanon is experiencing a political and economic crisis that is worsening from day to day and may become an existential crisis. Therefore, we have decided to act towards [achieving the following goals]: Ending the Iranian patronage over Lebanon's military, political and national decision-making...; ending the sponsorship of the sects over the building of the state; upholding the constitution; strengthening the independent judiciary and implementing laws, especially those involving the oversight of all state authorities and institutions and their accountability. Let us restore true sovereignty and democracy in Lebanon, to ensure its survival." In other statements it released in the past months the association stressed the need to form a political opposition that would act to end the Iranian patronage over Lebanon.
The chair of the Kataeb Party (the Phalange), Sami Al-Gemayel, said at a conference marking the party's 82nd anniversary: "Just as the Kataeb overthrew the French patronage in 1943 and [later] the Palestinian and Syrian patronage, today they are staging a revolution against the existing situation and the endless postponing of the [task of] building the Lebanese state... Our advice to Hizbullah is to stop [its attempts to] take over the country, because nobody can do that. Hizbullah may be able to overpower the politicians, but not the entire Lebanese people... Hizbullah may be able to thwart [certain measures] for a while, but not indefinitely. We call on Hizbullah to take a courageous decision and reach out to all the Lebanese people in order to build a sovereign, free, independent and stable [Lebanese] state. [We call on it] to subject itself to the authority of the constitution and laws. If Hizbullah continues to consider itself above the other Lebanese, permitted to do what others are not, it will eventually drive the public to launch an intifada against the existing situation."
Similar statements were made by Lebanese journalists. 'Aql Al-'Awit, a columnist for the Al-Nahar daily, wrote: "Hizbullah is the only [force in Lebanon] that can say and do as it pleases, and this is not because it is unique in its generation but because it possesses military force that allows it to wield considerable political power. The source of this power is [Hizbullah's] partisan, ideological and religious affiliation with an influential force in our region, namely the Islamic Republic of Iran..."
Journalist Khairallah Khairallah wrote: "Lebanon's main problem is [Hizbullah's] illegal weapons, which enable the existence of a state within a state... We must act with prudence and without losing sight of our guiding [principle], which is that Hizbullah's weapons pose a danger to every Lebanese [citizen] and the future of his children, every Sunni, Shi'ite, Druze or Christian."
Janoubia website editor 'Ali Al-Amin, a Shi'ite Lebanese journalist who opposes Hizbullah, wrote: "The Lebanese president, who is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, does not have even formal authority over Hizbullah's weapons, which [allow Hizbullah to wield] greater power than the state and its apparatuses, or at least to compete with them, although it has no legal authority [to do so]... No government can be formed, no elections [can be held] and no constitution [can be passed] without Hizbullah's approval, and it grants its approval only if its demands are met."
On Lebanon's 75th Independence Day, marked on November 22, 2018, Lebanese officials and columnists wrote that the country cannot celebrate its independence because it has been "hijacked." Mustafa 'Aloush, a member of the Al-Mustaqbal Party's political bureau, said: "Lebanon, which Hizbullah has hijacked by force of arms, is unable to escape the circle of danger... The only solution is for Hizbullah to [either] return to the Lebanese fold or else leave Lebanon... The world must have sympathy for Lebanon and realize it has been hijacked, and that great efforts must be made to free it from its captors."
Al-Mustaqbal columnist Paul Shaul wrote: "Hizbullah has replaced the Israeli occupation [of Lebanon] with two occupiers: Syria and Iran... This militia has tried to turn all of Lebanon into a canton of the rule of the jurisprudent [i.e., Iran]. But the graver problem is that the Cedar Revolution has collapsed... Where is [our] independence? Where is the unity of the state? Where is the republic? All of them are absent... Today, in 2018, Hizbullah is openly acting to turn Lebanon over to Iranian patronage." 'Aql Al-'Awit wrote in a similar vein: "On the eve of Lebanon's 75th Independence Day I acknowledge that it is dying... Lebanon is not independent. Its soil is anyone's for the taking... [It] is occupied from end to end... How can we celebrate in a dying, occupied state that is not independent?!"
Lebanon celebrates its 75th Independence Day while shackled by Iran (Al-Arab, London, November 19, 2018)
President 'Aoun, FM Bassil Castigated For Cooperating With Hizbullah
The criticism was also directed at Lebanese President Michel 'Aoun and his son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who were accused of cooperating with Hizbullah, legitimizing its weapons and allowing it to effectively control the country. Journalist Khairallah Khairallah accused 'Aoun and Bassil of doing this out of lust for power. "What did Lebanon do," he wrote, "to deserve [these] greedy and power-hungry Christians [i.e., 'Aoun and Bassil] who think they can restore their rights using Hizbullah's weapons?... In the war [of 2006] Hizbullah defeated Lebanon, after supplying Israel with every excuse to destroy part of its infrastructure. Then it started advancing, step by step, towards a takeover of Lebanon, until it became directly involved in the war against the Syrian people."
Particularly scathing in his criticism of 'Aoun was former MP Fares Sou'aid, head of the Saydet El-Jabal association, who wrote: "President 'Aoun sits on his throne in the Baabda [Presidential] palace, relying on two armies. One of them [i.e., the Lebanese army] receives its orders from the Lebanese government, while the other [i.e., Hizbullah] receives its orders from a non-Lebanese regime, namely from Iran... Today nobody knows whether Lebanon is Iranian, Eastern, Arab or Western... It is right at the center of the Iranian axis... and is under Iranian patronage. The most decisive proof [of this] is that, when [armed] clashes [broke out in October] in the Palestinian refugee camps, especially in the Mieh Mieh camp, the armed Palestinian factions convened in [Hizbullah's stronghold], the Dahiya in Beirut, not at the Lebanese Army Intelligence Directorate or the State Security Intelligence Gathering Division. The President's throne is in the Baabda palace, but the [real] seat of decision-making and influence is in Bir Al-'Abd [in the Dahiya]. In 'Aoun's era, [Lebanon] exists in a state of duality: the formal [rule] is in Lebanese hands, but the [real] content and clout are in the hands of Hizbullah. And all this is under Iranian patronage.
Israel's exposure of Hizbullah's missile sites and tunnels also triggered criticism of 'Aoun and Bassil, who were accused of ignoring them and covering for Hizbullah. Lebanese journalist Radwan Al-Sayyid wrote: "Hizbullah boasts of its missiles that are aimed at Israel, and Israel immediately responds by listing the location of the missile depots around the Beirut airport. [So] Lebanon's Foreign Minister [Gebran Bassil], the President's son-in-law, tours the area of the airport in the presence of the media in order to refute Israel's claims, which Hizbullah [itself] never denied." Journalist 'Abd Al-Wahhab Baderkhan wrote in Al-Nahar: "Perhaps the gravest [indication] of the disintegration of the Lebanese state is that it has lost every [trace of] strategic thinking. It denies the existence of [Hizbullah's] tunnels and condemns Israel for holding it responsible for these tunnels, ignoring the advice of friendly countries. It does not say a word as Hizbullah creates facts on the ground in complete disregard of the [Lebanese] state. When Hizbullah secretary-general [Hassan Nasrallah] spoke of the advanced missiles Hizbullah had obtained, and when his deputy [Na'im Qassem] threatened that 'all of Israel is within range of our missiles,' Lebanese President Michel 'Aoun never told [us] on whose behalf these two creatures were speaking and what they were taking about."
* C. Jacob is a research fellow at MEMRI; H. Varulkar is MEMRI's Director of Research.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No.7801, In Lebanon, Criticism Of Hizbullah's Tunnels Into Israel: Hizbullah May Drag Lebanon Into War; The Lebanese Government Must Demand That Hizbullah Stop Violating UNSC Resolution 1701, December 12, 2018.
 Almanar.com.lb, November 10, 2018.
 Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), November 27, 2018.
 Elnashra.com, November 10, 2018.
 Al-Jumhouriyya (Lebanon), November 10, 2018.
 Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), November 27, 2018.
 Al-Nahar (Lebanon), November 18, 2018.
 Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), November 19, 2018.
 Al-Arab (London), November 7, 2018.
 Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), November 24, 2018.
 This is a reference to a statement made by 'Ali Younesi, an advisor to Iranian President Hassan Rohani, on March 8, 2015. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 5991, Advisor To Iranian President Rohani: Iran Is An Empire, Iraq Is Our Capital; We Will Defend All The Peoples Of The Region; Iranian Islam Is Pure Islam – Devoid Of Arabism, Racism, Nationalism, March 9, 2015.
 Al-Sharq (Lebanon), December 16, 2018.
 Al-Hayat (London), December 8, 2018.
 In early December 2018 Hizbullah demonstrated that it is willing and able to use its weapons to thwart a decision by Prime Minister Sa'd Al-Hariri. After former minister Wiam Wahhab made insulting remarks against Hariri, the latter dispatched a police force to serve him a summons for questioning. When the police force arrived at Wahhab's home, a clash erupted with his supporters and Wahhab's bodyguard was killed by police gunfire. Hizbullah, for its part, declared that it would not abandon its ally Wahhab and that if he was hurt a civil war could break out. The organization backed up its words with actions, sending troops to guard Wahhab's home and arming his associates. Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), December 3, 2018.
 Al-Jumhouriyya (Lebanon), October 21, 2018.
 Al-Jumhouriyya (Lebanon), October 29, 2018; saydetaljabal.org, November 5, 2018, December 10, 2018.
 Al-Jumhouriyya (Lebanon), October 24, 2018.
 Al-Nahar (Lebanon), November 12, 2018.
 Al-Arab (London), December 10, 2018.
 Al-Arab (London), October 23, 2018.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 2, 2018.
 Al-Arab (London), November 11, 2018.
 Al-Nahar (Lebanon), November 20, 2018. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No.7778, On Eve Of Its 75th Independence Day, Lebanese Journalist Laments His Country's Condition, November 28, 2018.
 Al-Arab (London), October 19, 2018.
 The reference is to an armed conflict between Fatah and the Palestinian Lebanese organization Ansar Allah, in the course of which Fatah tried to take over parts of the Mieh Mieh camp.
 Al-Jumhouriyya (Lebanon), October 28, 2018.
 Al-Ittihad (UAE), October 13, 2018.
 Al-Nahar (Lebanon), December 12, 2018.