BEIRUT, Lebanon — Hezbollah and its allies rose to a position of unprecedented dominance in Lebanon's government Monday, giving its patrons Syria and Iran greater sway in the Middle East.
Lebanon Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced a new Cabinet dominated by the militant group and its allies after the country has operated for five months without a functioning government. The move caps Hezbollah's steady rise over the decades from a resistance group against Israel to Lebanon's most powerful military and political force.
Opponents of Hezbollah — which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization — say having it in control of Lebanon's government could lead to international isolation. The group's most ardent supporters are Iran and Syria, which dominated Lebanon for 29 years.
But U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the formation of the new Cabinet as "an important step toward establishing a functional, executive government in Lebanon," his spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
The new government opens the door for renewed Syrian influence in Lebanon at a time the Syrian leadership is struggling at home. It's a remarkable turnaround from 2005, when fallout from the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri led to massive anti-Syrian protests in Lebanon. The protests, dubbed the "Cedar Revolution," drove tens of thousands of Syrian troops out of Lebanon and ended decades of Syrian domination over its smaller neighbor.
The ascendancy of Hezbollah is a setback for the United States, which has provided Lebanon with $720 million in military aid since 2006 and has tried in vain to move the country firmly into a Western sphere and end Iranian and Syrian influence. It also underscores Iran's growing influence as Washington's is falling.