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Lebanon’s 77 Years of a Nominal Independence

Lebanon’s 77 Years of a Nominal Independence

Tuesday, 1 December, 2020 - 18:15

The 77th anniversary of Lebanon’s independence could not come at a worse time for the country. It was truly painful that the latest failure of the present regime was the withdrawal of Alvarez & Marsal, a global business consultancy services firm, while the US is imposing sanctions against several Lebanese senior politicians.

The firm’s withdrawal came as Lebanon is suffering a financial and economic collapse, a lethal pandemic and a terrifying political impasse causing a government vacuum. All this is added to an illegitimate armed and sectarian hegemony and a failed rescue attempt by French President Emmanuel Macron in the aftermath of the Beirut port disaster.

Each of the above would have been sufficient enough to shake a regime, which had already lost the trust of the people in October 2019. Then, the pain felt by Lebanese overcame their political and sectarian differences, and pushed them to the streets and squares demanding basic rights of citizens, a decent living and the departure of a failed ruling class.

Today, Lebanon marks 77 years of existing within its present borders, but in a region whose entities have since 2003 teetered on the brink of becoming “failed states”, and since 2011, reached that point.

With the undeclared failure of the Macron attempt, the unclear situation in Washington from now until January 20, and the regional pressures coming from Tel Aviv, Tehran and Ankara, there certainly are no signs of imminent improvement.

As far as Syria is concerned, it is not clear how its map will look like in the future, specifically its southern provinces. Both the regional and American developments during the last few months seem to be bringing about new considerations in how influential players are calculating the situation.

President Donald Trump’s successes in pushing forward the dynamics of “normalized” relations with Israel, and Washington’s diminished worry about threat of “political Sunni Islam”, have refocused attention on the role of “political Shiite Islam”. So, it is not a coincidence that both Washington and Tel Aviv have “suddenly” become more “sensitive” about Iran’s expansionism, and the mushrooming of the military positions of Hezbollah, the Lebanese branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), in the Hawran Plain, Suweida province and the eastern slopes of Mount Hermon close to the area of the Golan Heights that Washington has recognized as “Israeli territory”.

Recent attacks against Hezbollah targets have confirmed that the pro-Tehran militia currently has dozens of positions in southern Syria, and is overseeing several armed networks, under Tehran’s auspices and the full knowledge of the Damascus regime. These networks are thought to be engaged in various kidnappings, crimes and transgressions against the local population, especially, in Suweida. Moreover, there is a growing interest in what looks like shaky relations between Moscow and Tehran in this Syrian region bordering both Jordan and Israel.

In Iraq, Iran is also reviewing the situation after the US presidential election in the hope that with a Joe Biden administration it would reclaim the good position it had enjoyed during Barack Obama’s presidency, after the four unfriendly Trump years. These four years were the ones when full backing to Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud was the White House’s top regional priority.

In fact, the visit to Baghdad by Esmail Ghaani, Qassim Soleimani’s successor as head of Al-Quds Brigade in the IRGC, must be seriously assessed in the light of the pro-Arab policy adopted by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, more so, towards the Gulf governments. Such a pro-Arab policy is, of course, unpopular with pro-Iran Iraqi militias and parties, whose subservience to Tehran pushes them to keep Iraq as an Iranian “arena” whatever the cost.

Thus, the change in the White House brought about by the victory of the man who for eight years was Obama’s vice president, has encouraged Tehran and its henchmen to raise their expectations; although, such high expectations may not be well-placed, given intersecting interests and changing circumstances.

The same applies to Lebanon, whose situation is even worse than that of Iraq, and may not be much different than the situation in Syria. The 77th anniversary of Lebanon’s independence comes when this independence is fast becoming meaningless; although there are no “apparent” foreign troops stationed on its soil, unlike Syria and Iraq.

The key word here is “apparent”. It is true that there are no foreign troops on Lebanese soil, despite the recurrent talk about the Israeli-occupied Shebaa farms and Kfarshouba heights. But the fact is that these areas will continue to be regarded as “disputed territories”, under international law, as long as the Syrian regime – not the occupying Israelis – refuses to officially declare that these territories are Lebanese. In fact, Damascus has always refused to present to the UN the documents stating that Shebaa and Kfarshouba officially belonged to Lebanon.

On the other hand, the Lebanese know, as do the Americans and the Israelis - and as Iran openly boasts - that Hezbollah represents Iran, its influence, power both in Lebanon and the Levant. Actually, if evidence is ever needed, one need to go no further than the announcement of the late Soleimani after the Lebanese elections that Hezbollah “now has a parliamentary majority!” and before that, the boasts of political, religious and military Iranian leaders that “Iran exists in Lebanon through Hezbollah!”.

A well-known fact is that the afore-mentioned elections were staged in the shadow of Hezbollah’s arms possession, and under an electoral law imposed and favored by the party; before becoming the dominant power behind the scene in the post-elections cabinet. Furthermore, when the October 2019 uprising forced the resignation of that cabinet, Hezbollah again was the real power that formed what became the current caretaker cabinet, which resigned in the aftermath of the August 4 Beirut port disaster.

Still, the real effective hegemony of Hezbollah – i.e., Iran – over the nominally “independent” Lebanon began four years ago. Then, it imposed thanks to its military and political might, and security blackmail, General Michel Aoun as President. Thus, for the last four years the Tehran regime has been in full control of the Lebanese decision-making process, dominating the executive and legislative branches, and continuously intimidating the judiciary.

This is, in short, how Lebanon’s “independence” looks like on its 77th anniversary.

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