Lebanese President Michel Suleiman's call for dialogue this week fell on deaf ears, as the two major political coalitions, March 8 and March 14, refused to come together for talks. While Hezbollah's Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah refused to cooperate with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which he again attempted to discredit this week, former PM Saad Hariri maintains that the only issue that must be addressed is Hezbollah's weapons. PM Najib Mikati is walking a tight rope, trying to reconcile both groups and safeguard Lebanon's standing with the international community.
The March 8 group attacked the STL again this week and brought back the controversial issue of false witnesses, aiming to discredit the tribunal. The March 14 allies, for their part, insisted that a national discussion of Hezbollah's weapons is necessary for "progress." The group made a strong statement expressing solidarity with the Syrian people demostrating against the regime, after months of avoiding a vocal stance for fear of reprisal.
Both coalitions are holding strong onto their positions and bracing for the outcome of the Syrian uprising. Things could drastically change for both, depending on who comes out as winner in the upheaval nearby. While a continuation of the status quo would give the current governmental majority more room for maneuver, a change of leadership could severely weaken its clout, allowing for a potential change in government. March 14 is keen on such a change, as Hariri has expressed his group's intention to democratically topple the current government.
The Hezbollah-led cabinet kick started its mandate by reshuffling key administrative positions, giving the post of airport security chief to a Maronite after it had been controlled by a Shiite since 1998. In return, Hezbollah appointed one of its own as head of Lebanon's General Security, a key institution which controls security, and information, travel in and out of the country, as well as monitors land and maritime borders and airspace. March 14 labeled the new appointments a "complete takeover of institutions " by Hezbollah and its allies.
The cabinet also approved this week a Memorandum of Understanding with Iran's Petroleum Ministry, which would allow Iran to assist Lebanon in the fields of gas and oil exploration. Details of the agreement were not publicized, but this step comes at a time when Lebanon and Israel appear to be headed towards a clash over offshore oil and gas reserves. Both countries claim that the reserves are in their maritime borders, but there are no legally defined and internationally recognized borders between the two warring countries.
Meanwhile, Lebanon is struggling to maintain good relations with the international community. The U.S., U.K. and the European Union have expressed their reservations about the new Lebanese cabinet's policy statement. The U.S. Congress, in the wake of the formation of a Hezbollah government, has been studying ways to curtail aid from the Shiite group, which it considers a terrorist organization. France was rumored to have frozen an agreement to supply the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) with weapons, but the French Embassy in Lebanon denied the reports. LAF Commander General Jean Kahwaji is due to visit Paris and Washington, D.C. this week to discuss this issue.
In Beirut, PM Mikati faces an equally daunting task. In an effort to show his government's commitment to international obligations, Mikati visited the South of Lebanon, where he paid tribute to the LAF and praised the efforts of the UN peacekeepers. However, his task is geting more challenging as his cabinet majority continues to rebuff his stances. It may well turn out to be that neither he, nor the contending political parties, will have much control should a new status quo arise in neighboring Syria.