What are Western Diplomats Telling March 14?

The West always talks about its support for national agreements and stability, and does not act as if it is concerned about whether this government stays or goes. (Photo: Al-Akhbar)

By: Nicolas Nassif

Published Monday, November 26, 2012

The March 14 opposition alliance has cut off all communication with Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government and the parliamentary majority, in addition to boycotting the National Dialogue roundtable.

Yet the coalition has come to understand that such a stand does not necessarily improve its position in the ongoing political struggle; it will neither force Mikati to resign, nor will it put a stop to the political assassinations that have targeted a number of March 14’s leaders.

In taking such a position, the opposition understands that its calculations differ from – and sometimes contradict – the advice of its Western allies, particularly March 14’s insistence that the government resign before agreeing on a replacement.

March 14 attributes advice it hears from Western diplomats to the following observations:

1. The West always talks about its support for national agreements and stability, and does not act as if it is concerned about whether this government stays or goes. It is not pleased with the current status quo in Lebanon, but it is not as bad as is often reported and therefore doesn’t require fundamental change at the moment, particularly as no one knows what the alternative looks like.

2. Western diplomats do not object to a change in the government, but they are against this happening by force. They did not like the way the previous Saad Hariri government was deposed, but the new majority managed to convince them that their government will bring stability to the country.

3. The diplomats are in no doubt that the current situation is bad, but they prefer that it doesn’t get any worse, particularly if efforts to form a new government fail. Some of the ambassadors are openly concerned about the difficulty of reaching an agreement on a new government in Lebanon, as it often requires some sort of Arab consensus or the imposition of the will of the majority.

Western diplomatic circles believe that the Mikati government’s guarantor at the moment is the parliamentary majority and particularly the head of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt, who continues to refuse offers to leave this majority in order to topple the government.

4. One of the West’s concerns is that Syria will take advantage of the political vacuum in Lebanon to stir things up so as to deflect attention from its own troubles. In this vein, the opposition believes that the West does not fully appreciate the threat posed by political assassinations.

The diplomats do not refrain from denouncing the killing and insist on finding the perpetrators and punishing them, even without knowing their identities. But they do place it within a comprehensive picture of what they want in Lebanon – and that is stability.

They do not justify the assassinations, but they are not possessed by the kind of panic and fear that strikes March 14 figures. The diplomats tend to have a more levelheaded assessment which seeks to protect the operations of government institutions and national stability from repercussions.

This is how many Western diplomats responded after the assassination of intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan; they told their March 14 allies who were demanding the immediate resignation of Mikati that they should beware of chaos.

5. The West tends to read developments in Lebanon within a regional context, particularly the country’s relationship to Iran and possible repercussions for the Gulf, as well as the threat posed by Tehran to the international community.

One diplomat reportedly told March 14 leaders that his country takes very seriously statements coming out of Tehran, which place Lebanon at the heart of its foreign and military policy.

This is only reinforced by Hezbollah’s actions, particularly in the party’s involvement in the struggles that are taking place in the region, such as supporting the Syrian regime and the Bahraini opposition.

6. What is certain in the view of many Western diplomats is that the internal struggle will not qualitatively change due to small alterations like a new government or parliamentary elections, especially in light of the much larger and more profound struggle taking place in Syria.

What the diplomats are telling their Lebanese allies is that they do not have a plan for the country like they did in 2005 when the internal balance of forces tipped decisively in favor of Syria’s Lebanese foes, who won the parliamentary elections, formed a government, and forced the withdrawal of Syrian troops.

Nor is the situation like it was in 2006 during the Israeli war on Lebanon when the West thought that the Resistance would be defeated, ending any political role for Hezbollah and its foreign sponsors in the country once and for all.

The West does not see such decisive events taking place anytime soon, so Lebanon will continue to figure low on its priorities in the region, with a continued emphasis on stability.

Nicolas Nassif is a political analyst at Al-Akhbar.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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