Last week—nine months since the last Lebanese parliamentary elections—Prime Minister Saad Hariri formed a governing coalition. In accordance with Lebanese custom, cabinet seats are distributed among the country’s various religious groups, but the Iran-backed Shiite group Hizballah saw to it that even most non-Shiite ministers were its allies. Tony Badran explains:
Following its victory in the May 2018 parliamentary election, Hizballah . . . laid out its non-negotiable demands and immediately received Hariri’s acquiescence. Namely, Hizballah wanted to control the lucrative ministry of public health. . . . Then Hizballah proceeded to manage the shares of the other sects and parties. The Lebanese Forces, a Christian party, gained seats in the election but Hizballah marginalized it in the government-formation process. . . . Hizballah thus made sure that the defense ministry went to one of its [Christian] allies, Elias Bou Saab. . . .
The government-formation process demonstrated clearly that Hizballah runs the entire political order, underscoring the reality that Lebanon and Hizballah are, in effect, synonymous.
U.S. policy should reflect this reality. It should abandon the fiction that by “strengthening state institutions” it somehow weakens Hizballah. Instead, the Trump administration should freeze all assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces. Moreover, U.S. law requires imposing sanctions on agencies and instrumentalities of foreign states that move money to Hizballah. Lebanon’s ministry of public health now fits this category. The U.S. should thus block international funds to the ministry. While the Lebanese will surely protest that the new minister is not technically a card-carrying member of Hizballah, there is no doubt as to whom he represents. There is similarly little doubt that Hizballah will staff the ministry. Washington must act accordingly.