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A Sad End to France’s Lebanese Adventure

A Sad End to France’s Lebanese Adventure

Saturday, 15 May, 2021 - 18:30

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian did not let down those who had expected his short “warning” visit to Lebanon to end the way it did. It proved, indeed, that he who has nothing can offer nothing.

What happened has proven beyond any doubt that Paris could offer nothing as long as it has two different sets of definitions for: religious and sectarian extremism, occupation, sovereignty, the people’s right to honest living, corruption and conspiring against coexistence and “institutional state”.

A government policy that deludes itself in defending a militia’s illegitimate arsenal, under the excuse that the said militia “enjoys electoral support” can neither achieve breakthroughs nor prove trustworthy. Actually, it is strange to willfully ignore the relationship between this militia’s exclusive possession of heavy weapons – despite being frequently used inside Lebanon – and its election “victories”, as well as its undermining of state institutions, politicizing its judiciary, opening borders to smuggling and destroying the livelihood of the Lebanese people through ruinous “liberation” adventures.

During the two visits made by the French president Emmanuel Macron to Beirut, after the massive explosion at its port, he presented an “initiative” that was trusted by naïve observers. He also met with “representatives” of all the Lebanese communities, and dealt with them like a stern and decisive schoolmaster.

For a short while after the first visit, those “representatives” took the French president’s initiative seriously for two reasons:

1- They were unsure how decisive Macron would be.

2- How strong was Washington’s support for the French initiative, if there was one.

For these two reasons, they agreed to have a new cabinet headed by a Paris-trusted young diplomat from outside the political establishment. However, things soon unraveled as the “representatives” succeeded in “deflating” and circumventing the initiative once they discovered its fragility, and Washington’s true position towards it. Thus, Prime Minister-designate Mustafa Adib quit, and the Hassan Diab government – dubbed the “Hezbollah cabinet” – carries on in a caretaker capacity.

Of course, backed by its Christian cover the Free Patriotic Movement (the Aounist movement), Hezbollah, which is the strongest, the most experienced in obstruction, the most dominant and obliterative party, was and is not ready to offer concessions to France.

Indeed, why should it concede to a powerless authority in wake of the US presidential elections? Hezbollah bet, and rightly so, that there was no need to offer painful concessions to Paris if the horizon looks bright in Washington; where the new White House boss cannot wait to mend fences with Iran’s leaders, and overlook the behavior of its surrogates in four Arab states.

Then, in a move that looked as if it was accommodating the French initiative and reassuring the Sunnis, Saad Harari was re-invited to form a new government, almost one year after he resigned to meet the demand the October 2019 popular uprising. And it was noteworthy that the “Shiite duo” wewasre very eager to nominate him.

As a matter of fact, Amal’s support for Hariri was well-known and expected, as it reflects the traditional conciliatory position of its leader Nabil Berri, the parliament speaker. What was new, however, was Hezbollah’s support, keeping in mind that it has different considerations. It basically moves and functions beyond the Lebanese arena; and while it has an interest to look magnanimous to the Sunnis, it would never discard its Aounist Christian cover.

On the other hand, it is well known that Aoun has never ceased his attempts to annul the Taif Accords, undermine the role of the Sunni prime minister, and rebuild Lebanon under a new balance of power effectively under Iran’s military dominance, but with a figurehead Christian Maronite president.

As we recall, follow Biden’s November victory, the new US president handed over the Iranian file to Robert Malley, and appointed William Burns as head of the CIA. Hence, the Middle East scene – including the situation in Lebanon – began to look different.

Later on, the momentum was accelerated with the resumption of the Vienna talks aimed at returning to the Iran nuclear deal, and Washington’s announcement of its new priorities in Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan; in addition, to easing pressure on Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.

In parallel, the Aounist demands – tacitly backed by Hezbollah – became more and more insatiable and brazen in undermining Hariri’s efforts to form a non-partisan government as Paris had demanded during Macron’s visits to Beirut.

Again, Hariri gambled on what he regarded as a commitment towards him from the French president. He also felt that his luck was improving as Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai openly called for Lebanon’s neutrality; and thought that as he was fighting President Michel Aoun – who as ever was hell bent on marginalizing him – he was winning a sizeable chunk of Christian Maronite support represented by the patriarch.

On the other hand, Hariri ignored friendly advice to quit because the de facto rulers in Lebanon - Hezbollah and Aoun - would never allow him to govern, and the major world capitals would never fight for him, whether politically or militarily against Iran and its regional subordinates.

But it was only recently that Hariri began to feel that his gamble was floundering. Worse still, Hariri felt - or was made to feel - that while Paris was unwilling to confront and punish Hezbollah, it was ready to punish him and his Mustaqbal movement along with Aoun’s FPM for “hindering effort to form the government”. Then, in recent days, the French foreign minister’s visit, as well as its reverberations, confirmed that impression.

Given the above, it is time now to admit that under Macron, France does not have the much hoped for solution that ends Lebanon’s suffering, and save a country whose “romantics” used to call France “the tender-hearted mother”. It is also time to accept that France’s understanding of the Middle East’s problems, its clear-cut priorities, and how it handles these priorities would encourage no one to expect solutions … not even initiatives.

Failure becomes obvious when we recall how Paris led, during the last four years, Europeans efforts to befriend the Iranian regime, and an unconditional return to the nuclear agreement; and also obvious when Paris has continuously ignored the root cause of Lebanon’s problem and who is responsible for it.

Then comes the guardsman of French diplomacy to admonish a bunch of weak politicians in a country, which is effectively under occupation, overlooking what this occupation means and leads to.

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