Washington and Paris fear for Lebanon’s stability

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US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) and former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri shake hands before a meeting at the US Chief of Mission Residence June 26, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo: AFP-Brendan Smialowski)

By: Maysam Rizk

Published Friday, July 4, 2014

There have been several US statements indicating, sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly, that Lebanon will inevitably be drawn into the Iraqi and Syrian quagmires. The last such statement, which confirmed that “Lebanon will not escape the sectarian storm in the region,” was reported by Lebanese politicians who met with US officials.

One politician who met recently with officials from the US administration told Al-Akhbar, “Washington is convinced that Lebanon will not be able to emerge from this stage safely. The administration is convinced, based on information and analysis, that the different political factions will not remain calm in the foreseeable future.” He pointed out that the Americans responded to our question about the presidential elections in Lebanon and the need to exert international pressure to elect a president with another question: “Is the presidency important in Lebanon and can it stop the fundamentalist threat heading its way?”

US statements to Lebanese officials might be slightly alarming, but can they be seen in the context of preparing the local, regional and international political climate for an explosion of the situation in Lebanon? Lebanese politicians have returned recently from Washington recalling the position of the US Secretary of State John Kerry who visited Beirut weeks earlier to stress “the importance of stability in the country, and the international decision which represents an umbrella protecting Lebanon from a breakdown in security.”

Lebanese politicians refuse to “blow things out of proportion” the way Americans are doing. They believe that “any logical reading of what is currently happening in Iraq and Syria puts Lebanon at risk which the Americans have talked about. The security-related incidents that took place in a number of Lebanese areas, especially the suicide bombings and the presence of a considerable number of terrorists suggest that the country will not overcome this crisis any time soon, but it is not going to blow up.”

US political and diplomatic fears intersect with French concerns based on intelligence sources. According to security officials, French intelligence agencies are sending Lebanese security agencies exaggerated information, especially in terms of warnings against a large number of supposed suicide bombers entering Lebanon and the targets that these suicide bombers are trying to blow up.

Despite US and French fears, the politicians returning from the US capital are optimistic that internal and external factors will prevent the “Syrianization” or “Iraqization” of Lebanon. These factors are rooted in the lack of desire among any of the world powers to transform Lebanon into a hotbed of terrorism.

Internally, Hezbollah seems to be the main guarantor of continued stability. According to sources considered closer to the March 14 camp: “Hezbollah sees Lebanon as a place of repose from where it sets out for the confrontation in Syria or any other place that threatens it. The party wants Lebanon to stay calm so its nurturing environment can feel comfortable. In addition, it does not want to involve Lebanon in any foreign conflict.”

Besides Hezbollah, there is the Future Movement, which “agrees with Hezbollah on the question of fighting terrorism.” Together, they formed “a government of security partnership rather than national partnership,” according to the same sources. The Future Movement knows that “if this growing Sunni extremism in the region reaches Lebanon, it means that a member of one of the fundamentalist movements will appoint an emir instead of Saad Hariri in Beit al-Wasat.”

The external factor that the sources talked about, involves Iran, whose “priorities include relieving Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia which sees the Future Movement as its official and sole representative in Lebanon given the campaign it is currently waging to defend itself, claiming that it stands with moderation and against terrorism.”

In addition to the political factors, the sources spoke of geographical factors that prevent an all-out crisis from taking place, most notably “the lack of sea and land ports of entry for fundamentalist groups to come in large numbers, except some individuals who enter Lebanon legally through the airport.” This “makes it easier for security agencies to pursue them given their cooperation with international intelligence agencies.”

Other sources that are “not close to the March 8 camp” point to an additional factor that will prevent the situation in Lebanon from exploding, namely, that “Hezbollah protected itself by seizing control of the Syrian Qalamoun region.” According to the same sources, “the only point of vulnerability in Lebanon is the North, especially Akkar. The northern district has been abandoned to those inciting hatred against the state and the army, which has received nothing since the Rome Conference except empty words.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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