Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

The Latest on the Lebanese Situation

The Latest on the Lebanese Situation

Thursday, 14 December, 2017 - 15:00

New words and idioms have recently imposed themselves on Lebanon’s political dictionary; such as ‘preventing vacuum’, ‘stability’, ‘realism’, and ‘temporary truce’. All these express a particular ‘situation’ pointing to a local imbalance that benefits from regional disorder and global confusion.

The Lebanese are now merely passing time while international strategies around conflict intersect and conceal themselves, as the players wait to agree on the lowest common denominator for a new world order.

To begin with, before tackling the regional disorder from which one goes to deal with what is happening in Lebanon, let us look at the confusion encountered by three of the of the world’s most influential blocs.

One year ago the USA went from living under one of the most ‘liberal/leftist’ administrations in its history to another which may be described as the most ‘right-wing’. Despite the fact that the American political system is based on ‘checks and balances’, the election of Barack Obama as America’s first African-American president pointed to structural changes in the country’s social and political concepts, or so it seemed in November 2008.

Later, in November 2016, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction with the election of Donald Trump. Not only Trump was an ultra-conservative Republican, but also a businessman who came from outside the ‘political establishment’, fought the primaries against the Republicans’ traditional leader, and was never elected to any political office. His election, too, pointed to yet another change in the public mood, if not America’s political culture. Moving from the extreme ‘left’ to the extreme ‘right’ uncovered a deep rift dividing a ‘nation of immigrants’, which after enjoying an ever-increasing strength thanks to its diversity, has now become averse to diversity, openness, tolerance and welcoming others.

What we have witnessed in America has happened too in Western Europe where strident globalization was with met long-dormant ‘racism’ which has now rediscovered its voice and self-confidence. With this phenomenon, people seem to have forgotten the disasters that nationalistic – indeed, ethnic – extremism caused in Europe in the 20th century, including the rise of Nazism and Fascism, and later the Balkan crises in the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR and ‘the Berlin wall’.

In Asia, home to China and India, the world’s two most populous nations, there are also complicated problems that are becoming even worse against a background of diverging interests and different calculations, whether towards a ‘nuclear’ North Korea, or the conflict over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, in addition to the problems of the Indian subcontinent, Myanmar, and East Turkestan (Chinese Xinjiang).

The pre-occupations of these three major blocs were bound to have repercussions on the Middle East, one way or another. Such a reality has since helped three well-organized regional powers, namely Israel, Iran and Turkey, in flexing their muscles and competing for regional hegemony; and failing that, benefitting from apportionment.

America’s unshakable support for Israel is not new, but has been further enhanced by Donald Trump’s giving an official seal of approval to the old congress vote recognizing Jerusalem as ‘Israel’s capital’. Washington, indeed, has politically sponsored and militarily aided Israel for seven decades.

As for Iran and Turkey, both countries have had a rollercoaster relationship between animosities and alliances. After both countries were Washington’s allies during the Cold War, their respective relations with both Washington and Moscow changed radically, as each pursued its own interpretation of ‘political Islam’, and invested its own ‘Islamist’ slogans in strengthening its presence in an Arab world that has since lost its nationalist identity without gaining an alternative capable of safeguarding the territorial unity of its political entities.

Iran began its interventions aiming at regional hegemony in the first day of the ‘Khomeinist Revolution’ in 1979. This was done through the slogans of “Exporting the Revolution” which precipitated the first Iran-Iraq War. Turkey, on the other hand, had long dreamt of moving ‘westwards’ by joining the European family. However, it eventually discovered that it was not a welcome addition to that family; and consequently, under Necmettin Erbakan then Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it changed direction, moving instead to the east and south towards the Arab world and western Asia.

What became known as ‘The Arab Spring’ of 2011 was an opportunity for all three regional powers to compete for influence at the expense of Arab ambitions and aspirations. As Iran gained an early advantage in 2003 with the US invasion of Iraq, and later in 2008 as – through Hezbollah – took control of Lebanon, Turkey decided to confront Iran by winning in Syria, Egypt, and perhaps Libya too. For its part, Israel has decided to benefit from the escalating Sunni – Shi’ite animosities, first, by destroying any remaining chance of creating a Palestinian state; and secondly by ensuring that the region and Arab bloodletting continues thus increasing its impregnability and killing off all what might threaten its existence.

By 2011, Iran had already achieved hegemony in both Iraq and Lebanon, and through the Houthis established a foothold in Yemen. Later on, however, in the Syrian conflict, Iran’s militias fought against forces supported by Turkey, before both the Iranians and Turks were brought together to the ‘Astana process’, as a result of Moscow’s limiting ambitions, and Washington's ‘zeal’ in encouraging the Kurds. Moreover, in 2013 Ankara suffered another major setback in Egypt, where it had regarded itself a winner after the ‘January 2011 Uprising’, soon exploited by the ‘pro-Ankara’ Muslim Brotherhood who managed to rule Egypt between 2012 and 2013.

In Lebanon, meanwhile, the Lebanese had begun to realize that the withdrawal of the Syrian troops in 2005 following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, was almost meaningless. The Damascus regime was actually nothing but a ‘front’ and ‘nanny’ to a concealed Iranian occupation under the motto of ‘Resistance’; and the divisions between Lebanon’s factions were – and still are – too deep to build a responsible awareness of the need for an inclusive interest that is necessary for nation building.

Today, Lebanon remains ‘occupied’; and worse still, there is an international collusion with this ‘occupation’ providing it with a cover of constitutional ‘legitimacy’. Some Lebanese leaders, claiming to seek ‘stability’ and adhering to ‘realism’ after warning of the danger of ‘vacuum’, have agreed to an apportionment that provides that cover.

This is why they are now acting as if they did not know, although they know only too well what is asked of them.

Other opinion articles

Editor Picks