In a surprising reversal, Lebanon’s Hezbollah backed government agreed to pay its share of funds to the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is investigating the murder of a former Prime Minister. The New York Times reports:
The United Nations-backed tribunal investigating the killing of a former Lebanese prime minister said Thursday that it had received the long-overdue half of its budget from Beirut, about $32 million. Many in Lebanon’s government, dominated by the militant group Hezbollah, had opposed cooperating with the court.
The murky waters of Lebanese politics run deep, so it is difficult to make bold predictions from news like this. Nonetheless, this may suggest that Assad’s influence over Lebanon via his allies in Hezbollah may be on the wane. Mona Yacoubian argued as much in the most recent Foreign Affairs:
Hezbollah faces a moment of reckoning. The increasingly likely demise of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus would deprive the militant Lebanese Shia organization of one of its main patrons and could constrain its ability to play an active role in regional politics. Moreover, by offering up unbridled support for Syria, Hezbollah has placed itself at odds with the popular revolts that are unseating autocratic rulers across the Arab world, undermining the narratives of resistance and justice for the oppressed that it has long espoused. Facing the loss of a key ally and with its credibility compromised, an off-balance Hezbollah could turn inward, deepening its involvement in Lebanese politics in order to consolidate its power.
Hezbollah backing down and funding the UN court may be their first step towards just such a shift. If so, this would be a serious blow for Assad, as his grip loosens over a country he used to regard as a province.