26 January 2011
Lebanon's parliament has approved the appointment of billionaire businessman Najib Mikati, the Hezbollah-backed candidate, as the country’s new prime minister. The vote follows the ouster of Western-back Prime Minister Saad Hariri and confirms the Iranian-backed Shiite movement as the most powerful force in Lebanon. In less than two weeks, Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah used local political alliances and the backing of Iran and Syria to topple Hariri’s all-party coalition and install a candidate of choice to lead the country.
The rise of Hezbollah is also likely to affect US support for Lebanon. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday that "a Hezbollah-controlled government would clearly have an impact on our bilateral relationship with Lebanon." Paul Salem, director of the Middle East Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was quoted by the ‘Wall Street Journal’ as saying: "It's a big dramatic change and a clear setback if you are talking about Western democratic ways we had tried to gain in the past few years."
Silvan Shalom said on Wednesday that Lebanon was being taken "hostage" by Iran and Hezbollah. "The international community must do everything to stop Hezbollah and Iran from taking Lebanon hostage," Shalom said on Israeli public radio, adding: "Hezbollah is not simply a terrorist organization, it's a terrorist organisation controlled by the Iranian state."
In a televised speech on Tuesday, Nasrallah claimed his party would not seek to rule Lebanon alone. The country's power-sharing system stipulates that the prime minister must be a Sunni, the president a Christian, and the house speaker a Shiite. Although the Sunni businessman Mikati, 55, is seen by some as a moderate the fact that he was brought to power by Hezbollah has caused anger among the Sunnis in Lebanon. However, one of the first acts of his new government will likely be fulfilling the wishes of Hezbollah and its backers and cut Lebanon's ties to the UN Special Tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the father of Saad Hariri. Sealed indictments issued last week are expected to accuse Hezbollah of a key role in the car bombing.
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