Not only did Mikati pledge to form good relations with the United States, but also stated that he would not hinder an anticipated international tribunal to indict members of Hezbollah in the assassination of the former prime minister. Despite Hezbollah’s pressures to denounce the tribunal, Mikati refuses to falter. “I am the prime minister and I will decide,” said Mikati. “If [Hezbollah does] not accept, let them not accept.”
This individualistic route seems to have placated the U.S. “As we see what this new government does, we will judge it accordingly,” said Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton.
Others are more critical of Mikati’s loyalties. “In one way or another, this government is on the axis of the Syrian-Hezbollah interests,” said member of the Lebanese Parliament Nouhad Mashnouq.
Israel is particularly wary of Mikati. Yisrael Hayom, Israel’s largest daily newspaper, denounced the country as turning into “Hezbollahstan.” Israeli government officials are already preparing for hostile relations. “The concern that Lebanon is on the fast track to becoming an Iranian satellite under Hezbollah control has widespread strategic implications,” said an anonymous Israeli official.
Mayse J. is a Palestinian freshman at Pitzer College from Ramallah in the West Bank. Her home is in a city under Israeli occupation, surrounded by various walls and checkpoints. “Although security in the West Bank has always been excessive, I expect Israel is going to be even more worried about security if Hezbollah is in power, because Hezbollah will do something to threaten Israel,” said Mayse.
There is some speculation that Hezbollah’s increasing influence in Lebanon could be beneficial for Israel and Sunni-Arab relations. Although the Sunni-majority countries of the Middle East are not fond of Israel, a common enemy is a strong unifier. “With notoriously sectarian Hezbollah in power, Sunni Arab regimes will be tempted to join in Israel’s efforts to undermine Iran and Hezbollah,” said Iranian-Israel Middle East analyst Meir Javedanfar.
Mayse sees this as very unlikely and uses a similar political situation in Palestine for comparison. In the 2006 Palestinian Parliamentary election, she said, the recognized terrorist organization Hamas won decisively, but ultimately the U.S. and United Nation-backed group Fatah gained power instead.
“In 2006 Fatah and Israel could agree on certain points because they did not want Hamas in power, and I expect to see something similar with Sunni-Arabs and Israel working to undermine Hezbollah,” said Mayse. “Still, these two don’t like each other. At best they will agree on certain points against Hezbollah, but they will never work towards conflict resolution.”
In Mayse’s opinion, the events in Lebanon are not to be confused with other distinct events happening in the Middle East, such as the protests and overthrow of President Mubarak in Egypt. “I feel like Americans have a very implanted idea in their heads against Middle Easterners,” said Mayse. “They grow up to believe that Arabs and Muslims are terrorists. It doesn’t matter whether or not Hezbollah gains control in Lebanon. Americans will have a negative depiction of Middle Easterners regardless.”
These anti-Middle Eastern sentiments have been studied extensively by Yahya R. Kamalipour, Director of the Center for Global Studies at Purdue University. “The American public often has very little knowledge of the Middle East; hence, the constant barrage of disasters, coups, uprisings, conflicts, and terrorist activities, reported routinely by the U.S. media, fosters a gross mis-impression of the Middle Eastern peoples, ” Kamalipour says in his book The U.S. Media and the Middle East: Image and Perception. These countries are “often lumped together as if they were a single entity.”
This has certainly become the case with the current Lebanon issue since the start of the riots in Egypt. A recent article in the World Tribune highlights Florida House Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who first censures the Muslim Brotherhood in Egyptian politics and then leaps to attacking Washington for persisting “in continuing to provide assistance to a Lebanese government in which Hezbollah essentially had veto power.”
Though Washington remains supportive of the new Lebanese government, only as time passes and the dust settles in the Middle East will we see more Lebanon-specific policies.