The assassination of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in Iraq has weighed heavily on the situation in Lebanon with all of its political and security complexities. The Hezbollah party is directly concerned with the development and has vowed to continue Soleimani’s mission and avenge his death.
It remains to be seen whether the assassination will speed up the formation of a new Lebanese government. Sources close to Hezbollah said the process will be delayed. They told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Iran-backed party’s priorities have “changed” after Tehran has become embroiled in a direct confrontation with the United States.
This consequently demands that the party be represented politically in the government after it had previously agreed to form a cabinet of technocrats that meets the demand of popular protesters.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun had on Friday sent cables of condolences to his Iranian and Iraqi counterparts to condole them over the death of Soleimani and deputy chief of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces Abou Mahdi al-Mouhandis. They were both killed in the US strike that targeted Soleimani’s convoy in Baghdad on Friday.
Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry condemned the attack, saying it was a “flagrant” violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and a “dangerous escalation” against Iran that will raise tensions in the region.
“Lebanon always encourages dialogue and restraint in resolving disputes instead of turning to force and violence,” it added. It called for avoiding the region and Lebanon the repercussions of the assassination.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah offered his condolences to Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei, vowing that the party will continue Soleimani’s mission “until we achieve his goals.”
“The American murderers will not achieve any of their goals with this crime,” he added.
Nasrallah is expected to deliver a televised address on Sunday to outline the party’s retaliation to the assassination.
Military expert Nizar Abdul Qader said options are open for the party and Iran’s allies in the region. Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, he ruled out the possibility that Hezbollah would opt to retaliate by attacking Israel because it realizes that that would lead to large-scale war that Iran “absolutely does not want.”
The party may instead resort to escalation against Americans, whether by carrying out provocations against the US embassy in Lebanon or along Iran’s various fronts in the region. The retaliation may take place in countries allied to the US, he added.
As observers are still pressing officials to form a new government, March 14 General Secretariat coordinator former MP Fares Soaid told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Any government formed by Hezbollah and its allies will be weak against the massive developments taking place in the region.”
The government will be formed under the agenda of confronting the American administration, he predicted. “If the Foreign Ministry in the caretaker cabinet is so sympathetic in condoling Iran, totally disregarding endangering Lebanon’s interests, then what would the situation be like under a government that would be at Hezbollah’s mercy?”
Soaid said the assassination is a turning point in the region. “Iran has built it legitimacy on Soleimani’s military and security clout. This clout is gone and with that, Iran’s power is beginning to decline.”