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Macron’s Initiative Between What Is Allowed and Refused by Nasrallah

Macron’s Initiative Between What Is Allowed and Refused by Nasrallah

Monday, 17 August, 2020 - 13:00

The Lebanese profusely give thanks with every major ordeal that hits the country, and they are many, striking mercilessly, one after the other. Perhaps the most prominent of these tokens of appreciation came on March 8 2005 when, with vexatious disapproval, Hassan Nassrallah said “thank you Syria” following the assassination of the prime minister Rafic Hariri and his companions. It was followed by “thank you Qatar”, on the heels of the war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, and "thank you Iran" after the same war, when Farsi banners were hung on the Beirut airport and in the Hezbollah stronghold of the southern suburbs. In addition to this explicit gratitude, the implicit thanks have been expressed by some Lebanese, such as "thank you Israel" for expelling the Palestine Liberation Organization from Lebanon after the 1982 invasion.

Today, France's stance after the disaster in Beirut’s port called for Lebanese thanks to France, especially its president, Emmanuel Macron, who came to Beirut on an urgent visit carrying with him an initiative aimed at settling the crisis, allowing the country to breathe and have the urgent and badly needed aid delivered to those affected by the horrors of the tragedy, in addition to pressuring officials to speed up implementation of fundamental reforms to the political system, which is in trouble and close to a breaking point, by forming a government that pumps new blood into Lebanon and helps Lebanon recover from the calamity.

What has been said about Macron's determination to put all his weight behind ensuring his initiative's success seems rosy and excessively optimistic. In order for the Lebanese to avoid losing their way, making their eventual bitter disappointment even bitterer than those they are accustomed to, it is imperative on us to pause and look through the main obstacles facing the French initiative: forming a national unity government, with Hezbollah considered a component of Lebanese life that must be included, and embarking on structural reforms to the political system and public administration and fighting corruption.

Among these obstacles are the many questions around the accuracy of reports of an Iranian-French settlement which pushes Hezbollah to make concessions that would facilitate the formation of a new government and subsequently allow it to carry out required reform. If there is such an understanding, what concessions can Iran make at this stage? Is it Hezbollah's military and political withdrawal from Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, and pledges that the group will cease to attack Arab Gulf states? Is a concession regarding the demarcations of the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel? What will Iran and Hezbollah get in return for these concessions? Replying, "nothing", would be an illogical response, unless Hezbollah was involved in the explosion at the Beirut port, in the sense that what blew up next to the ammonium nitrate were its weapons and ammunition and that this was what caused this massive destruction, and the international intelligence agencies know and but are keeping it to themselves, for now, keeping in mind that party’s secretary-general considered that a "sound mind" would never believe such a claim. If we assume this to be true, then common sense leads us to drive that the Iranians will make such concessions in return for two things: French rejection of the American draft resolution on extending the arms embargo on Iran in the Security Council and leaving Hezbollah's weapons off the table. This would entail maintaining the problem that led to Lebanon's collapse and all the other fragile compromises. Among the most prominent obstacles indicating the scrawniness of the French initiative is its bet that the armed party will allow for the implementation of reforms that would do away with the reasons for its existence and sources of its haughtiness. For such reforms would inevitably impede its freedom of movement by tightening control over all crossings; the reforms would push back against the internal corruption networks that Hezbollah sponsors or turns a blind eye to, in return for an array of benefits.

Moreover, how would Washington see such an understanding if it exists, especially at this particular stage, during the remaining few months of President Donald Trump's term, during which it is exerting maximum pressure on Iran and its proxies in the region, especially the Lebanese Hezbollah? Here, we must refer to new information that is coming out, especially those mentioned in an article that was published by The Wall Street Journal last week. Citing official sources, it discusses new sanctions being imposed on Hezbollah figures and institutions, as well as others that are allied with it and other Lebanese figures accused of corruption. It is claimed that America also seeks, through these new additional sanctions, to achieve two goals: first, exclude the group and those hiding behind it form the next government on the one hand, and drive a wedge between them on the other, in an attempt to pressure them to form a neutral government that is not influenced by Hezbollah.

These reports indicate a discrepancy between Paris and Washington, which sent its Under Secretary of State David Hale to Lebanon last Friday, perhaps in an effort to curb the French's momentum, and to explain that the American position is totally consistent with the positions of some Arab Gulf states regarding Hezbollah; it rejects Hezbollah's dominant role in Lebanese political life. How is it possible to reconcile the French initiative that seeks settlements with Hezbollah and may strengthen its grip on political decisions and does not bring up the issue of its weapons, with an American-Iranian-Arab settlement and link the two together, all while America continues to impose ever stricter and unprecedented sanctions on Iran and its allies? Unless there is something behind the hill behind it, and there are developments to which we are oblivious amid talk of American-Iranian negotiations mediated by Oman moving full swing.

In the midst of all of this, Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Jawad Zarif visits Beirut a day before the scheduled date, bypassing the protocol and indicating Iran's exceptional “closeness” to Lebanese officials. Did he carry warnings, affirming the claim he made on his previous visit in 2019 that "Lebanon is our arena" and that it is not to be left open for the Europeans and Americans, thus thwarting the French initiative? The answer came immediately, in Nasrallah's televised speech. Hezbollah's traditional positions were unchanged with regard to rejecting a neutral government in which it is not represented, or early elections. It is as if the Beirut explosion had never been. Rather, he set parameters around what was permitted and what was forbidden, threatening both internal and external parties: internally when he asked his loyalists to be patient and preserve their anger, as they would perhaps need to use it soon against their opponents. Externally, he called on them not to fear foreign warships on the coasts of Beirut, saying: “We know how to deal with them”, in an implicit reference to those who remember the two bombings that targeted French forces and Marines in Beirut in 1983.

In conclusion, it was once again affirmed that the line between Lebanon, the state, the entity, and the people, and Hezbollah is beginning to crumble, whereby Lebanon turned into a geographical arena or a military base that Iran exploits, without taking the interests and future of the Lebanese people into account, not even the members of the Shiite community. Iran had a hand in everything that afflicted Lebanon, including the assassination of Beirut. Lebanon will not recover, as it faces its slow death, amid hasty initiatives, as the leaked information for the French initiative indicates. The political forces that call themselves the opposition to a party they hold responsible for the failure of the state and inflaming sectarian tensions are too ashamed to meet, even if only for the sake of it, even after an explosion that almost did away with the whole of Lebanon.

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