CONTENT PREVIEW
Country Risk

Lebanese PM's resignation extends political paralysis, and facilitates political case for Israeli war

17 November 2017

Key Points

  • An extended period of political paralysis is likely, raising the risk of the delay of Lebanese elections and of the inability to form a cabinet if elections are held as scheduled in May 2018.
  • Should Hizbullah manage to form a cabinet regardless, this would indicate a much higher risk of US sanctions targeting Lebanon.
  • In a possible future Israel-Hizbullah war, Israel will be able to rely on increased public Arab support, including from within Lebanon, leading to extended policy paralysis and civil strife after any future war.

Event

The Prime Minister of Lebanon Saad Hariri announced his resignation while in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on 4 November, due to Iran’s influence in Lebanon through Hizbullah, and what he said were “credible threats” to his life from Hizbullah.Former Prime Minister of Lebanon Saad Hariri with King Salman of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh on 11 November 2017. (Bandar Algaloud/Saudi Royal Council/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)Former Prime Minister of Lebanon Saad Hariri with King Salman of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh on 11 November 2017. (Bandar Algaloud/Saudi Royal Council/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Saad Hariri had accepted a deal with Hizbullah, whereby its main Christian ally Michel Aoun would become president of Lebanon, in order to maintain his relevance to Saudi Arabia as his businesses there were in serious trouble and bankrupted. With Lebanon parliamentary elections set for 2018, Hariri needs to re-escalate pressure against Hizbullah in order to rally the Sunni community to his side – his party had performed especially badly during 2016 municipal elections. Saudi pressure undoubtedly played a role in the timing of the resignation and its setting, but was not the only factor determining it.

Lebanese political tradition – albeit not the constitution – requires the prime minister to be a Sunni Muslim. Over the past three decades, Saudi Arabia has had enormous influence over this post. That Hariri resigned while in Riyadh indicates that no other Sunni Lebanese politician would be able to take the post without alienating a significant portion of that politician’s own Sunni power base. As such, the sitting cabinet will act as a caretaker government at least until May 2018, when new parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held.

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