Washington is likely to seek new ways of pressuring Lebanon to weaken the radical Islamist Hezbollah movement, even though its involvement will probably only serve to strengthen the militants, Russian Ambassador to Beirut Alexander Zasypkin said.
“The way Americans think, sanctions must affect Hezbollah, damage it, one way or another. However, they cannot affect it financially, as the party does not have bank accounts. So we are talking about likely harm to those ‘appointed’ as people or organizations involved in Hezbollah’s activity. Occasionally, there are signals about future restrictions against Hezbollah’s political allies,” Zasypkin said.
The ambassador added that the US will probably continue trying to increase the effectiveness of the restrictive measures.
“But, you have to take into account that these attempts will lead to deterioration of the general situation in Lebanon, while Hezbollah’s positions will probably only strengthen,” Zasypkin said.
The United States has been actively imposing sanctions on persons or entities with links to the movement.
Lebanon has been in a political and social turmoil since mid-October when the government of then-Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced tax hikes on internet calls and tobacco in an attempt to salvage a deteriorating economy. On 22 January, a new government, led by Prime Minister Hassan Diab, was confirmed to deal with the ongoing political and crisis. The situation has recently taken a turn for the worse after a devastating explosion in Beirut.
‘Lebanon’s Still at Dangerous Edge’
The situation in Lebanon remains challenging, and the decline in the number of anti-government rallies can be explained by the coronavirus pandemic and protesters lacking a reform program, Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin said.
“Indeed, the problems have not disappeared, and Lebanon is still at a dangerous edge, and the situation remains negative. The coronavirus has certainly weakened public activity. However, in my opinion, the fact that the protest movement did not offer an agreed program of transformation also played a role,” the diplomat said.
Zasypkin added that most demonstrators stopped going to rallies when provocateurs joined the protests and started rioting and clashing with the police. At the same time, the situation might escalate even more if problems are not resolved, the ambassador said.
He added that the government is trying to resolve the most pressing issues, but is being criticized from all sides because of the complexity of the crisis.
“Even under the threat of collapse of the country, politicians are not able to find common ground. There are attempts to present the crisis in the country solely as a result of the activities of the current government. This approach shows the nature of Lebanon’s problems, which are primarily due to the existence of the confessional system,” the diplomat said.
The large-scale anti-government movement in Lebanon began in October 2019 after the government hiked taxes in a desperate attempt to salvage the sliding economy. The tax proposals have since been repealed but the protests against endemic corruption and mismanagement have continued with varying intensity.