Latest claim by Major General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, that Tehran’s ally Hezbollah now dominates the Lebanese government has sparked angry reactions in Beirut. Prime Minister Saad Hariri criticized the Iranian top general’s “regrettable” remarks and emphasized that Tehran’s meddling in Lebanon’s internal affairs undermines regional stability. “If some have lost in Iraq, it does not mean that they should seek to compensate for their loss somewhere else,” Hariri was quoted by Lebanese media as saying, apparently referring to May 12 Iraqi parliamentary elections, in which Muqtada al-Sadr’s coalition won a plurality while Iran-backed Fatah Alliance came second. Hariri’s reaction came after Lebanese social media began to circulate Soleimani’s video, in which the U.S.-blacklisted general called the results of Lebanon’s May 6 elections a “referendum” and a “victory” for Iran and its allies. “For the first time, Hezbollah secured 74 of 128 seats in the Lebanese parliament. It transformed from a resistance party into a resistance government of Lebanon. But did this not happen at the peak of difficulties for Hezbollah? Did this not happen at the peak of evil actions by al-Saud and their spending spree? This happened and this is a major victory.”
Soleimani also boasted that Hezbollah secured the gains despite pressure at home and from abroad, claiming that Saudi Arabia spent about $200 million to undermine Hezbollah in the elections. He also pointed out that a Shiite candidate affiliated with Hezbollah came first in the city of Beirut, which he described unprecedented in the Lebanese history. “Hezbollah has transformed form a party into a government of resistance,” he concluded.
Comments: Hariri’s reaction to Soleimani’s provocative remarks was expected. But what is worth noting is that the Iranian general’s comments also angered Lebanese parliamentarians Soleimani counted as part of the Hezbollah coalition. Gebran Bassil, Lebanon’s foreign minister who also heads President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, criticized Soleimani’s remarks and stressed that FPM lawmakers are independent. “We are an independent bloc … with our own strength, we are not affiliated to anyone and no one follows us,” he said. Ziad Assouad, another parliamentarian from FPM, wrote on his Twitter page that he he was not "an ally of anyone but an ally of [Lebanon's] national interest, the constitution, the law and the free Lebanese people, who have entrusted us with representing the Lebanese nation." Neemat Frem, also an FPM lawmaker, echoed a similar criticism of Soleimani’s comments. "I am personally committed to Lebanon's supreme interest, which is above all else. Lebanon's loyal allies will not allow it be part of a regional conflict."