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Lebanon’s Crisis on Verge of Inevitable Confrontation

Lebanon’s Crisis on Verge of Inevitable Confrontation

Saturday, 11 November, 2017 - 10:00
Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. (Reuters)

The crisis that Lebanon is witnessing today due to the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri is unlike any other the country has experienced in its history. Despite the analysis and debate over his motives, his resignation speech was clear in stipulating the reasons that prompted him to step down.

“Hezbollah” and its backer Iran are the direct reason for what is happening in Lebanon, a year after the “settlement” that saw the election of Michel Aoun as president and appointment of Hariri as premier.

So what will happen now, given that the president has not yet approved the PM’s resignation and the “Hezbollah” and its allies’ refusal to examine the reasons why Hariri rsigned. The party’s rivals believe that Lebanon has reached “the point of no return” and that the main focus should be on disarming it.

Nasrallah’s response

In his reaction to Hariri’s resignation, “Hezbollah” chief Hassan Nasrallah overlooked, as did others from the party, the causes for his decision. They instead focused on superficial aspects of his speech, tossing the ball of finding a solution to the crisis in Aoun’s court and holding Saudi Arabia accountable.

Nasrallah stated that the Lebanese government “had made achievements and it could have accomplished more had it been allowed to continue.” He also claimed that the party is “keen on Lebanon’s stability,” saying that there was no cause for concern.

He also called for preserving security and civil peace in a region that is boiling with political crises.

Mustaqbal Movement MP Ahmed Fatfat slammed Nasrallah’s speech, labeling it a “declaration of war.”

Head of the Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc MP Fouad Saniora meanwhile said that the “settlement” is over, explaining that “Hezbollah” and its ally, the Free Patriotic Movement, had exploited it to make gains at Lebanon’s expense.

Hariri chose to step down after months of attempts to steer Lebanon clear of problems created by “Hezbollah’s” meddling in the affairs of Arab countries at Iran’s bidding.

“The solution lies in returning to the Taif Accord and constitution and restoring the authority of the Lebanese state,” he explained.

Saudi Arabia's Minister of State for Gulf affairs, Thamer al-Sabhan had announced earlier this week that Riyadh will deal with the Lebanese government as one that had declared war on the kingdom.

He held Hariri’s government responsible for failing to deter “Hezbollah” from its harmful actions, vowing: “There is someone that will deter it and make it return to its caves in southern Lebanon.”

He urged the Lebanese to become aware of these dangers and work to avert them before they reach the “point of no return.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir blamed “Hezbollah” for Hariri’s resignation, “who had had enough and we completely support him in his decision.”

“It was clear that ‘Hezbollah’ was holding him back in every regard and that the party was implementing Iranian dictates,” he continued.

Aoun’s position

At a time when the majority of political powers in Lebanon believe that the settlement in the country has collapsed, presidential sources said that it was too soon to speak of that.

Saudi sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Hariri had demanded that political understandings be reached in exchange for blessing Aoun’s election as president last year. These demands include “Hezbollah’s” withdrawal from Syria and refraining from carrying out hostile acts in Yemen and the Arab Gulf and that Hariri and Aoun would work to that end.

None of this materialized however, on the contrary, Lebanon found itself in the Iranian fold, noted the sources. There was talk of a one-year deadline to achieve those goals, but none of that happened.

“Lebanon did not adhere to its policy of disassociation, its ministers visited Syria and normalized ties with the regime. ‘Hezbollah’ was involved in security unrest in Kuwait and launched ballistic missiles from Yemen,” added the sources.

Furthermore, they revealed that Hariri had informed Riyadh in recent months that his “security guards’ telecommunications equipment twice did not have reception while passing through certain areas.”

The PM had spoken of a plot to assassinate him when he announced his resignation a week ago.

“Hezbollah” arms

The PM also accused Iran of violating Lebanon and establishing a “state within a state”, which now has the final say in local affairs. He also pointed to “Hezbollah” imposing its will through its weapons.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry said that the resignation was the announcement of a “new scenario to create tensions in Lebanon and the region.”

In wake of these developments, Lebanese Forces media officer Charles Jabbour and Director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs in Beirut Dr. Sami Nader said that “Hezbollah” and its arms are now the main obstacle in finding any solution to the crisis. Former deputy Prime Minister and “Hezbollah” supporter Elie Firzli linked the party’s weapons to Israel. He called on the international community “to end Israeli occupation before demanding that the party disarm.”

He told Asharq Al-Awsat that returning affairs to normal requires rationality, asking: “How can we demand that the party be targeted when Israel itself could not confront it?”

“The arms have been in its possession for years. Today, instead of targeting them, we should focus on strengthening the state, according to the constitution and Taif Accord, which would restore calm and ease the need for arms. Once this is achieved, we can shift discussions towards its weapons.”

The Taif Accord can be “saved” through reappointing Hariri as premier so that the government can stage the parliamentary elections that are scheduled for May, he explained.

Sunni representation

As Aoun bides his time in calling for parliamentary consultations to name a prime minister, all sides are convinced that it would be difficult to find a Sunni figure willing to take Hariri’s position.

Head of the Marada Movement MP Suleiman Franjieh announced that he refuses the appointment of a figure “who challenges the Sunnis”. Head of the Democratic Gathering MP Walid Jumblat said that the best solution for a Lebanon’s stability is the current national unity government.

These are views shared by Aoun, whose sources said it was too soon to talk about a government that does not enjoy “Hezbollah” representation.

Neutral government

Jabbour remarked that it was impossible to form a new government, regardless of its composition, at this current time.

Nader meanwhile stated that the “neutral” government was needed to complete the preparations for the parliamentary elections. He warned that Lebanon would be faced with an open political confrontation if “Hezbollah” is excluded from cabinet.

Jabbour told Asharq Al-Awsat that it was “impossible” to form a government with “Hezbollah” representation because this issue has “become a red line on the regional and international scenes.”

The party in turn refuses to be excluded from any cabinet because it will be therefore kept out of rule. Any attempts otherwise could be confronted with its weapons, warned Jabbour.

Given the above, it appears that Lebanon is headed towards an open crisis that requires non-traditional solutions.

He pointed to late former Minister Mohammed Shatah’s proposal to wait for the success of the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and use it as a framework to tackle “Hezbollah’s” weapons. The LF official said that Shatah was assassinated in 2013 for making such a demand.

Eyes are now turned to Iran and how it will deal with the developments after “Hezbollah’s” arms have become part of international and regional affairs.

Hilal Khashan, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, told AFP that Lebanon does not have a government with Hariri no longer in power. This therefore entails that “Hezbollah” is not represented in it, which means that any attack against the party will not be directed against the Lebanese state.

Months ago, al-Sabhan had called for forming an international coalition against “Hezbollah” and against simply making due with US sanctions against it.

Nader meanwhile said that the developments “demand more than just a settlement.”

Others should support Hariri’s stance after he had announced that the other camp had abandoned the settlement and dragged Lebanon in the Iranian axis and imposed the normalization of ties with the Syrian regime, he explained.

He therefore said that the Lebanon is now open to all political and economic options. He also did not rule out the possibility that “Hezbollah” would take an escalatory measure similar to what happened on May 7, 2008, when it took over Beirut. He did not rule out the chance that the party may also form a one-sided government, which violates the constitution and reason, and place Lebanon in total isolation.

Subsequent political crises

Lebanon has witnessed since 2005 numerous political crises, especially due to the divide between the Hariri and “Hezbollah” camps. Tensions usually culminate in security unrest through assassinations and armed clashes.

Amid the turbulence in Lebanon, some observers believe that Hariri’s resignation breathes life into the opposition camp against “Hezbollah”. It could be an opportunity to revive the “Cedar Revolution” and “March 14 camp,” which was born after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005.

This view was expressed by former aide to US President Donald Trump Walid Fares and March 14 General Secretariat coordinator Fares Soaid.

Soaid told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We should first acknowledge that the settlement that prevented the formation of a Lebanese opposition collapsed with Hariri’s resignation.”

He did acknowledge that the March 14 alliance that was formed after Rafik Hariri’s assassination had collapsed, but he did stress that a “national voice should be formed against Iranian hegemony over Lebanon.”

This national initiative is being prepared and it will bring together figures that oppose “Hezbollah” and Iran. He revealed that it will be officially announced “soon.”

Is the opposition ready?

Asked if the opposition in Lebanon is able to share Hariri’s stance and confront “Hezbollah’s” arms, Soaid replied: “In 2005, the Syrian regime was kicked out of Lebanon at a time when the national will was stronger than the Arab and international one. Today the situation is reversed. We now need to form a national will to meet this reawakening.”

After its launch, the new initiative will communicate with all Lebanese factions that share its views in order to lead Lebanon and the region towards a new phase, he remarked.

Fares, for his part, said during a televised appearance that the Lebanese opposition should play its role and not wait on the international community.

The court is now in the opposition’s court and it shares the views of the international community, he noted.

It will also enjoy the backing of the United States if it mobilizes in contrast to the past when it used to voice it objection to Iran and “Hezbollah’s” arms before then joining the party in government.

He ruled out the possibility of an Israeli war or American military intervention in Lebanon, adding however that the Lebanese opposition was to blame for failing to confront “Hezbollah’s” possession of arms.

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