Lebanese politician’s stand-off with Hariri spirals


HaririA stand-off between Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri and a pro-Syrian politician escalated on Saturday when shots were fired while police sought to bring the politician in for questioning over accusations of stirring strife.

The past few days have seen a sharp rise in tension in Lebanon, after video emerged of Druze politician Wiam Wahhab filmed at a gathering making obscene personal insults.

Although Wahhab did not name the target of his insults in the video, he was widely perceived as referring to Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his father Rafik, a statesman who was killed in 2005.

Hariri’s allies filed a legal complaint, accusing Wahhab, an ally of the powerful Shi’ite group Hezbollah, of “stirring strife and risking civil peace” in the video.

The police, in a statement, said officers had gone to Wahhab’s residence in the village of al-Jahiliya on Saturday “with the aim of bringing him” for questioning, but he had fled before their arrival.

It said police had not opened fire but unidentified gunmen had shot from neighboring buildings, and Wahhab supporters had fired “randomly”, wounding one of the politician’s aides.

Wahhab was quoted by news organization LBC International as saying one person was wounded in what he described as a clash.

“I was subjected today to an attempted assassination and the person who was wounded was meters from me. Let Hariri bear the responsibility of this blood,” he told LBC International in comments reported on its Twitter feed.

Wahhab, referring to the video that sparked the legal complaint, said his remarks were “general” and not directed at Hariri’s family. He criticized the security forces for arriving in large numbers, adding: “What happened today means civil war”.

The police said a travel ban had been imposed on him.

Earlier this week Hariri supporters staged protests and blocked roads after Wahhab denounced Hariri as incompetent in a TV interview. Hariri’s Future Movement has said the Hariris were being targeted by “a campaign of falsehoods” hatched by “sick minds” bent on obstructing efforts to form a new government.

Wahhab, who has close ties to the Syrian government, is a well known figure in Lebanon, although another politician, Walid Jumblatt is the main leader in the Druze community which is guaranteed eight seats in Lebanon’s 128-member parliament.

“We support any measure that firms up civil peace and it’s enough that this person or anyone else threatens civil peace,” Jumblatt said on Saturday after a meeting with Hariri.

Lebanon has suffered spasms of political crisis and violence since its 1975-90 civil war. Hariri leads a caretaker government but has been unable to form a cabinet since a May parliamentary election, with factions at odds over the division of posts.

The new government was on the verge of formation on October 29 after the Lebanese Forces accepted the portfolios that were assigned to it but a last-minute hurdle over the representation of pro-Hezbollah Sunni MPs surfaced.

Hezbollah  demanded that six Sunni lawmakers allied with the Shiite group and opposed to PM designate Saad Hariri be included in his Cabinet — something that Hariri, the country’s top Sunni Muslim leader, categorically rejects and so did Lebanese president Michel Aoun even though he  is  allied with Hezbollah.

Repeat of May2008 uprising?

According to experts Wahab will not make any such move without consultations with Hezbollah. The experts also  believe that Hezbollah is trying to repeat its 2008 scenario and is using Wahab to stir up trouble.

Following  Israeli  withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah was  very popular , but since its 2006 war with Israel and the subsequent events , Hezbollah ‘s popularity in Lebanon has suffered greatly. Other than the Shiites and Syria’s supporters in Lebanon few now  trust Hezbollah.

At the end of the 1975-90 civil war all the Lebanese militia were disarmed but Hezbollah remained  the only armed militia.

The  UN backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon   indicted Hezbollah  militants in the  killing of former PM Rafik Hariri  ( Saad’s father) on Valentine’s Day 2005.

The massive, 1,000 kilogram, car bomb that killed Mr. Hariri as he traveled along Beirut’s fashionable seaside Corniche, left a crater 10 meters deep, knocked down several buildings and killed 21 other people, in addition to killing the billionaire tycoon who had rebuilt war-shattered Beirut.

in 2006 following its war with Israel ,  it tried  to  bring down the government  of former PM Fouad Siniora.  In 2008 Hezbollah  pointed its guns against the Lebanese people when it occupied more than half of Beirut and tried but failed to occupy  Mt Lebanon . In 2011 it brought down the government of   PM  Saad Hariri  and reportedly used its arms to force Jumblatt and his parliamentary bloc to vote for their candidate Nagib Mikati as the new premier . .

In 2016 Hezbollah was accused of bombing the Blom Bank,   one of the Lebanese banks that  closed bank accounts held by people suspected of ties to the powerful Shi’ite group. Blom Bank ‘s action was in  line with  U.S. financial regulations targeting its finances. The law has triggered a standoff between Hezbollah and the central bank.  The Lebanese central bank  said it must comply with the U.S. Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act (HIFPA) , otherwise the Lebanese banking sector will be shut out of the international financial system.  The bombing of the bank was preceded  two hours earlier by a threat from Tehran in which Pars news Agency quoted Hezbollah officials threatening another May 7,2008  type attack.

Hezbollah’s current support for the Syrian regime , the Houthi rebels  and Iran  is a  main concern  for the Lebanese people. The other main concern  is  Hezbollah’s  attacks against the Arab Gulf countries. Most of the investments in Lebanon and most of the tourism income   came from these countries.

Lebanon’s public debt is  estimated  to be at the end of  2018  over 155 percent of GDP, one of the highest such ratios in the world.