In a weekend statement, Kerry said the U.S. “looks forward to working effectively with the new Lebanese government to bolster peace, stability and prosperity in Lebanon, for the sake of the Lebanese people.”
“Amidst growing terrorism and sectarian violence, we look to the new cabinet, if approved by parliament, to address Lebanon’s urgent security, political and economic needs,” he said.
Kerry’s statement did not criticize or question the decision to include in that new cabinet Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization responsible for the deaths of more Americans than any other, until al-Qaeda’s attack on Sept. 11, 2001.
One of Israel’s most enduring and dangerous enemies, Hezbollah’s current focus is its intervention in the Syrian civil war in support of the regime, a deployment that has fueled regional sectarianism and brought retaliatory terror attacks inside Lebanon by al-Qaeda-linked Sunni groups fighting on the rebel side in Syria.
On Sunday, one day after incoming Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam announced his “government of national interest,” Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah reaffirmed in a speech that his group would continue fighting inside Syria, where it was “gaining experience and strength.”
The new cabinet, comprising figures from across Lebanon’s sectarian spectrum, includes two Hezbollah ministers.
One of them, Hussein Hajj Hasan, last August threatened a Hezbollah response should President Obama make good on threats to mount military strikes against President Bashar Assad’s regime following its use of chemical weapons.
“We should deal seriously with the U.S. decision to attack Syria,” he told Lebanese television station Al-Mayadeen. “Hezbollah is following up and watching the situation and will do what is appropriate at the appropriate time.” (Obama backed away from the strike threat after Russia mediated a deal to have Damascus surrender its chemical weapons stockpile.)
In November, Hasan’s nephew was killed, fighting with Hezbollah units alongside forces loyal to Assad.
Hasan will serve as industry minister in the new Lebanese cabinet. The other Hezbollah member, Mohammad Fneish, has been named minister of state. Both have served in previous Lebanese cabinets.
As an armed militia, Hezbollah’s very existence violates two U.N. Security Council resolutions: Resolution 1559 of 2004 calls for “the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias,” and resolution 1701 of 2006 requires “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that … there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state.”
Although Kerry’s statement was silent on Hezbollah’s inclusion in the new government he repeated the long-stated U.S. position that Lebanon should comply with resolutions 1559 and 1701.
And in reiterating U.S. support for the Lebanese armed forces, he pointedly described them as “the sole legitimate security forces in Lebanon.”
Kerry also called on all in Lebanon to uphold a declaration signed by various political groups in 2012 year which calls on the country to “dissociate” itself from the Syrian conflict. Hezbollah has scorned the declaration, and violates it daily.
‘Martyrdom, blood, wounds’
In a speech Sunday honoring the group’s leading “martyrs,” Nasrallah characterized Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria as a necessary sacrifice to defend Lebanon against Sunni jihadist groups, which he claimed the U.S. and Israel have infiltrated with the aim of inciting strife among Muslims.
“Martyrdom, blood, wounds, patience, and tolerance are part of this battle, and they are worth going through in order to preserve our land and prevent our children from being slaughtered and out goods from being stolen,” he said.
“We will remain where we should be, our policy hasn't changed.”
He said Lebanon’s “dissociation” policy amounted to burying heads in the sand.
Nasrallah last May confirmed what had long been suspected – that his group was fighting alongside Assad’s forces in Syria.
The blowback has been seen inside Lebanon, where scores of people have been killed in bombings and clashes between pro- and anti-Assad groups.
The two al-Qaeda affiliates operating in Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL) and the al-Nusrah Front, have claimed responsibility for a spate of deadly bomb attacks in mostly Shi’ite areas of Lebanese cities since last August.
After former Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned in March 2013 lawmakers elected Salam as his successor and he has been struggling since then to form a unity government.
The one he announced on Saturday comprises eight ministers from March 14, the alliance led by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri; eight from March 8, the coalition that includes Hezbollah; plus eight “centrists.”
Lebanon is due to elect a new president in May.
Last month, the U.N.-created Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) opened the long-delayed trial of those accused of carrying out political assassinations including the killing of Hariri’s father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri, in 2005.
STL prosecutors in 2011 issued arrest warrants for four Hezbollah members, and indicted a fifth suspect last year. Hezbollah has refused to cooperate and the wanted men remain at large.