What to do with Lebanon?
It is a fact to everybody today that Lebanon’s situation been teetering close to the breaking point. Unless Assad is dealt with once and for all, Lebanon’s political and security institutions, its economy and its social fabric will without a doubt disintegrate into oblivion.
While the country’s main parties have joined a national unity government, the latter has still declared an official policy of neutrality and disengagement toward the Syrian conflict, which frankly doesn’t change a thing. Hezbollah is today more than ever fully engaged in the fight alongside the Assad regime and this has created space for the rise of more radical groups that want to challenge Hezbollah directly such as the movement of Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, the Abdullah Azzam brigades, Jubhat al Nusra and other al-Qaeda linked groups.
So what is there to do for Lebanon plunged more than ever in an ever ending quagmire?
I still believe the solution resides in putting an end to the Syrian regime (See this) once and for all. Anything short of that specific outcome will not change the equation for decades.
Any US foreign policy expert knows by now that Assad will never fully get rid of his chemical weapons. (See this and this) This is fact not speculation. Assad has proven time and time again that his regime is willing to fight to the last Syrian and would rather govern part of a devastated Syria than share power with others in a united Syria. A regime that rules by force responds only to superior force. As long as that is not forthcoming in terms of serious military support to the Free Syrian Army or external military action, I don’t see Assad going anywhere and hence no change in Lebanon with or without a new government.
Why should the US care about Lebanon? Dozens of reasons (See this) … the most important one being obvious.
For Lebanon to be sub-contracted to Syria, with American and Israeli acquiescence, is to bask in the illusion of stability. As custodian of Lebanon, Bashar Assad gains a vast array of cards to use at will to bolster its prestige or derail regional settlements. The Syrians have repeatedly shown a propensity to practice divide-and-rule tactics by playing one Lebanese faction off against another to suit their foreign policy objectives. Thus, when the Syrians wish for greater attention from Saudi Arabia, they engineer a squeeze on Lebanon’s Sunni leadership. If Syrian relations with Iran are souring, they pressure Iran’s Shi’a clients in Lebanon. Through their influence on Hezbollah and their ability to stop the flow of Iranian arms to the group through the Damascus airport, they ultimately control the temperature of the last active frontier with Israel. Depriving Syria of this undeserved power in Lebanon is a primary American strategic interest.
There is no doubt that the US has been over the years a strong supporter of the Lebanese armed forces and the biggest contributor to Lebanon’s refugee relief needs. This is though not enough because any take-over of the Lebanese government by General Michel Aoun backed by pro-Hezbollah/Syrian forces – as I expect it to happen come the upcoming new Presidential elections – will send the country in a tailspin.
If there is to be decisive action to be taken on the part of the United States, the time is NOW…. before the Russians start being considered as a God sent for anyone who does not wish to see Lebanon fall into a fundamentalist state.
Ziad K. Abdelnour is Founder & President of the US Committee for a Free Lebanon – America’s Pro- Lebanon lobby – and co-Author of Ending Syria’s Occupation of Lebanon: The U.S. Role