Lebanon Facing Threat of Washington Rehabilitating Damascus-Tehran Axis
Lebanon Facing Threat of Washington Rehabilitating Damascus-Tehran Axis
The recent events in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city and one of its major Sunni bastions, should not be understood outside two contexts: the internal political impasse, and the international calculations connected to Lebanon and the Middle East.
International approaches carry several worrying pointers, especially appointments made by President Joe Biden of the leading Middle East “operators” inherited from the Barack Obama administration in which he was vice president. Indeed, although it may be too early to be sure of what Robert Malley may do as a Special Envoy for Iranian affairs, his well-known ideological convictions do not usher a change in his priorities.
On the other hand, it looks like that the new administration has finally become “aware” of an Arab presence which deserves to be listened to; rather than disregarded by US regional policies centered on the nuclear deal (JCPOA) with the Tehran regime. In fact, Washington has already announced its intentions to involve its Arab allies in any regional strategy, including Iran’s nuclear file, as well as its disruptive regional policies.
The Biden administration has also “noticed” the existence of many Arab voices that understand and respect the interests of America. Therefore, they deserve to be consulted about matters within their field of expertise; and Biden has, actually, appointed no less than six Arab Americans so far to prominent positions in the National Security Council and the White House.
Yes, it may be a bit too early to be optimistic or pessimistic; however, I believe political realism must allow Arab leaders to welcome any kind of cooperation, but not rule out disappointments.
To begin with, today the Arabs have more than one cause to fight for; which is at least what the world is hearing from them. Moreover, when Washington deals with the Middle East, it may find itself obliged to plan and fine tune its initiatives while taking into consideration realities created by the ambitions of Israel, Iran and Turkey. Then, there are the growing Russian political and military presence, China’s economic expansion, and the stances of western European powers the US Democrats respect much more than their “isolationist” Republican counterparts.
Regarding Lebanon – and to a lesser extent, Syria – France feels it has a role to play, being the former mandatory power (between 1920 and 1943) that inherited the Ottoman Empire in two political entities whose borders it created, before leaving them in the mid-1940s. But if daily events prove the interconnection between the situations in Syria and Lebanon, the two countries have become, thanks to Iran’s expansionist project, an inseparable part of a regional-global equation.
In this equation, several deals intersect - like the Iran nuclear - that were struck behind the backs of the region’s peoples, specifically, the Arabs; and, as we have learned, such deals have included the Middle Eastern reflections of the old “Eastern Question”. Among these are the notion of the “alliance of minorities”, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and the Balfour Declaration. Particularly, in the Levant, everything since 1920, has been related to some or all of the above; and nowhere are the regional political and security seismic faults more evident than in Lebanon.
Present-day Lebanon’s map was drawn up in 1920, annexing to the autonomous Mount Lebanon District “Mutassarifiyyah”, with predominantly Christian and Druze populations, the Sunni-majority coastal cities, in addition to large areas with large Shiite and Sunni populations to the north, east and south.
Tripoli was among the important areas annexed – to what became known as “Grand Liban” – against the will of its population. For decades, Tripoli and the major Sunni urban centers of Beirut and Sidon, in addition to Akkar, as well as the Shiite, Sunni, Druze and Greek Orthodox-inhabited areas in the Bekaa province in eastern Lebanon, remained closely attached to Syria and pan-Arab identity.
Lebanon’s independence in 1943 was the second historical landmark. This independence was achieved thanks to a compromise “understanding” whereby Christians refrain from seeking European protection (similar to what happened between 1860-1862), while Muslims would not call for Lebanon to “dissolve” an Arab union.
This “understanding” survived several developments, shocks and challenges; among which were the founding of Israel and subsequent Arab revolutions and military coups, the Palestinian Armed Resistance and the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990), which ended only with a new compromise enshrined in the constitutional Taef Accords of national entente.
At the time, Lebanon was under another kind of “mandate” represented by the Syria’s security and military control, which was then exploiting Lebanon as a “bargaining chip” with Israel. The Syrian regime accepted the Taef Accords, but only allowed the implementation of the parts that suited its interests, while cementing its relations with the “mullahs” regime in Iran.
On another front, hardline Christian groups led by General Michel Aoun, then army chief, openly rejected the Accords, claiming that they ignored Christian rights and marginalized the Christian communities. Furthermore, despite Aoun’s animosity to the Syrians, and losing his military confrontation against them, ending with him going into exile in France, he continued to bet on bringing down the Accords.
Aoun’s moment came with his return to Lebanon, after the assassination of ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the country’s leading Sunni politician at the time. That assassination, in February 2005, stirred up a mass uprising against the Syrian-Lebanese security apparatus popularly accused of being behind the crime; thus, leading to the withdrawal of Syrian troops.
The irony, however, was that Aoun only returned after negotiating “arrangements” for future cooperation with his “old foes” in Damascus, against the forces he joined in the 2005 anti-Damascus mass uprising.
Aoun’s aim has never actually changed, and has always been to abolish the Taef Accords in an open war against what he sees as “political Sunnism” in both Syria and Lebanon. But, because he was politically and militarily unable to achieve his aim on his own, he realized that the only player capable of fighting the Sunnis has got to be the Shiites.
Moreover, betting on the common denominator of “demonizing” the Sunnis, between him and Iran, he allied himself with Iran’s Hezbollah. In other words, Aoun needed Shiite military might, and Iran needed a legitimate and constitutional cover to abolish the Accords and defeat the Sunnis. This is exactly what has happened, from the current “fabricated” government crisis… to the planned sedition through embedded agents in Tripoli.
This situation is likely to continue, if Paris and Washington are seriously thinking of keeping the Assad regime – with Israeli blessings, of course – and opening a new page with Tehran.
In conclusion, any move to rehabilitate the Damascus-Tehran axis will not be good news to the region’s peoples, especially, the Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis … and the Iranians.