By Sohaila Barghash
For the past nine months, Lebanon has had no government, which led to further economic deterioration, until this Thursday during which Lebanon’s factions agreed on setting a new government and will be expecting a visit from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The new governmental cabinet was set in response to Lebanon’s soaring public debt of $84 billion, or 150 percent of the gross domestic product, and an unemployment rate of around 36 percent.
However, and regardless of the continues pressure set through the US, recently, the 30-seat government has seen an increase in the number of ministries affiliated with Hezbollah.
The State Department said on Friday, the US is concerned about Hezbollah’s involvement in government, and warns they might exploit the health ministries’ resources, therefore calling on the Lebanese government to safeguard the ministry and prevent any support to the organization.
The United States has labelled Hezbollah a terrorist organization, and is therefore under strict sanctions from the US, which is also sanctioning their main supporter, Iran.
Deputy spokesman Robert Palladino stated: “We call on the new government to ensure the resources and services of these ministries do not provide support to Hezbollah.”
Furthermore, the US warned Hezbollah against exploiting their newly gained clout in the new Lebanese Cabinet and channelling funds from a ministry that has one of the country’s largest budgets, and is under the group’s control to institutions affiliated with the Shiite militant group.
Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s newly assigned PM who comes from the country’s leading Sunni political party, had stated the possibility of facing Western sanctions, due to Hezbollah holding more power in the country.
Hezbollah, lobbying for a bigger share, made their gains at the expense of Hariri’s party in the Parliament elections that took place in May.
Even though, the new health minister, Jamil Jabbak, is not an actual member of Hezbollah, he is known to be close to the group’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, and was his personal physician at one point.
Marshall Billingslea, the US Treasury’s assistant secretary on terror financing said: “We applied sanctions on Iran because they refuse to stop their terrorism and refuse to stop their missile launchers and funnelling of their activities abroad, and as a result of that, we are actually seeing that Hezbollah here is not getting the pay checks they once enjoyed from the Iranians.”
The government is promising new reforms that will unlock around $11 billion in soft loans and grants pledged by international donors at a conference held in Paris a year ago.