Lebanon today is at crossroads and the government formation has stalled for close to 5 months now. The French initiative of President Macron is in limbo, and the stakes are high. The geopolitical regional context is shifting from one of confrontation to one of peace, reconstruction and promise of economic prosperity for all.
Covid-19 has tested the economies of most countries including those of the developed ones, to say the least about Russia and Iran’s. All are vying to cash out, while Iran still haggles on the nuclear deal (JCPOA), as if in a bazaar. As the saying goes: ‘Money’s a coward’. Any investments in infrastructure requires subordination to peace-making, as a predecessor. All have to be onboarded, including Iran and its proxies, or else peace will be at risk. Train and oil pipe lines cannot be laid and exposed to wider threats of regional conflicts or targeted sabotage.
Russia, the new bully on the block, wants to recoup its investments from its direct military campaign dubbed “Mission in Syria” which started in 2015. The Russians “invoiced” Bashar al Assad for their war efforts and support, leading to serious strains within the Assad camp itself, the sidelining of his cousin and partner Rami Makhlouf and the expropriation of key cash cow (telecom and other) assets to settle Syrian debts to Russia and Iran. Russia with its coffers stretched, understands well today, that lucrative contracts from Syria’s massive reconstruction efforts are not feasible without the inclusion of the West and the Gulf Arab countries, the sources of financing. Russia tried many times to go it alone and failed.
Some have read the winds of change, while others like the Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, have not, or have chosen not to. He is misinterpreting them, willingly or unwillingly. After all he is not his own master, but a soldier of the “Wallih al Fakih”, executing Iranian orders, as he himself has proudly broadcast in his speeches. Like many dictators and fascists before him (remember the demise of Saddam Hussein and his side kick Tarek Azziz, Qadaffi and others…) he is in denial and could be leading Lebanon to its utter destruction, yet again. Skilled at propaganda, he is still manipulating perceptions and portraying any loss as a win.
Some have read the winds of change, while others like Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah have not. He is misinterpreting them, willingly or unwillingly. Is he his own master, or but a soldier of the Walih al Fakih, executing Iran's orders?
Yet, the signs and messages are clear for all to see. And there are many. The “carte blanche” from Putin for the routine Israeli bombings of Iranian proxies in Syria; the USA sanctions imposed on a key ally Gebran Bassil; the aligned messages of the Presidents of Israel, Rivlin and of France’s, Macron, in their recent press conference on the 18th of March, the former stating “Israel will not hesitate to attack forcefully” to do away with the missiles, and the latter, that “Iran must stop worsening the nuclear situation that is already serious”, etc…
The latest meetings held in Moscow between the Russians and Hezbollah representatives, on March 15, if the rumors are confirmed to be true, are not signs subject to interpretations, but direct messages to the Hezbollah to alter its course. Rumors have it that the Russians asked the Hezbollah reps to retreat from Syria, return the “precision” missiles back to sender, give up the military cloak for a political one, and lay low under the cover of Berri’s Amal movement, and speed up the process of a technocratic government formation. The dismantling or destruction of the Iranian missiles is an obvious sine-qua-non by the Israeli side for peace with its Syrian and Lebanese northern neighbors. Instead of publicly acknowledging the scolding, Hezbollah is projecting and misrepresenting these meetings as a “recognition” of its “major player” role in the region, running the risk of Aesop’s fable of the “Frog and the Ox”.
Iran ‘s influence peaked a while back in 2015 and is now waning, contrary to the image Hezbollah is projecting. This downslide started after the famous dispatch of Soleimani to Moscow in July of 2015. To refresh our memory Iran sent its top soldier to Moscow to seek urgent help to save the Syrian campaign from a rebel attack that threatened Damascus’ overtake, and more importantly the execution of the Shiite “crescent strategic plan”. Since, Vladimir Putin, has firmly established himself as the new “Alpha male” in the region calling the shots. Syria is too small to have Iran and Russia co-exist together. It is high noon and the loser has to go. Other signs of regression are being ignored such as the killing of the war mongering man himself, on January 3rd of 2020.
It is worthy to note that Hezbollah was formed by the Syrian regime and Iran, and is not Lebanese, by definition, and is the antithesis of it, as established in its by-laws. It calls for an Islamic “oumma” contrary to the historic traditions and nature of Lebanon, and against the will of the Christian community that now represent close to 36 % of the population.
Hezbollah was formed by the Syrian regime and Iran, and is not Lebanese by definition and is the antithesis of it, as established in its by-laws. It calls for an Islamic “oumma” contrary to the historic traditions and nature of Lebanon and its people.
The Secretary General, as if he is the true ruler of Lebanon is acting as the Iranian Governor of the Lebanese province, and in his latest speech ordered the Lebanese Army General to quell any street closures by protestors, the formation of a government of “politicians and technocrats”, and the once veneered central banker and accused by some to be a “ponzi-schemer” Riad Salame to work to prevent the deterioration of the Lebanese currency.
We need to remember that Nasrallah had given similar threatening speeches at the outset of the October 17 revolution in 2019, threatening that the government of Hariri, should not fall (as this would strip Hezbollah from its “legitimacy “). And it did.
Internally in Lebanon, the party’s power is slowly eroding due to the loss of both aura and clout, as each threat made by the Secretary General has been ignored by the people, who are now struggling with existential and survival issues, literally poverty, that is not sparing Hezbollah’s own support base.
Where is Lebanon Heading?
Lebanon is today a failed state. All systems are collapsing including the Lebanese pound that is now on a free fall and has lost 95% of its value, catalyzed by the double jeopardy of the Port explosion and the pandemic. The ruling corrupt recycled warlords and so called “elite” class that has governed Lebanon over the past 30 years are incapable of governing as they are driven by self-interest and part of nation-wide rackets, and a black hole of corruption, that has sucked in all branches of government including the judiciary.
The corrupt warlords that governed Lebanon over the past 30 years are incapable of governing as they are driven by self-interest and are part of nation-wide rackets, a black hole of corruption that sucked in all branches of government and the judiciary.
The most likely scenario unfortunately is the worst case scenario. The “Mad Max” scenario where the country breaks up into fragments like in 1975, and falls into chaos. Another grim one would be the “legally pirating” and overtake of the government, or recusing of the designated prime minister triggering a “one color looking East” government led by the Hezbollah and its allies, exposing it to imminent sanctions and further alienating Lebanon from the global community. The Secretary General is playing at brinkmanship and is laying down his last cards; the house could come crashing down on all Lebanese.
This would be the final stage of the dismantling of Lebanon, as per Hezbollah and Iran’s strategic plan. Under the joint “management” of the party and its partner, the Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanon already resembles more Iran, today -- multiple exchange rates, a cash economy due to the collapse of the banking system, the use of military tribunals and brute force to quell dissent and free speech -- than the once tolerant and now defunct Lebanese “Switzerland of the Middle East”. These scenarios suit well the Kleptocrats shielding them from any potential sanctions or accountability by the West as they would find cover under the protection of the “Eastern” countries‘ (Russia, Iran, and China).
Ideally a government of truly independent specialists, which the care-taker Diab government is clearly not, would be formed with decree powers to enact the much needed socio-economic and good governance reforms based on transparency and accountability. Any reform is however impossible with any of the Kleptocrats remaining in power. The ruling class or the Kleptocrats, with no exception, are directly or indirectly in cahoots with their protector, Hezbollah, as their corrupt interests conveniently converge.
Good cop bad cop routines, in media and public appearances and speeches are the norm. Their interests are aligned in that they are not willing to cede power for fear of being subsequently tried for crimes. Reverting to threats or Civil war, as threatened by the doublespeak of the Secretary General ‘s latest speech, would save them from any accountability, as their safety and self-preservation trumps. Their interests are clearly not aligned with those of the People who are yearning for a decent life, basic human rights and basic services (education, health, housing and jobs).
Internal resolution alone is not possible without the international community’s direct involvement and support. Only a truly independent government would be effective to implement real reforms –a ruling joint committee of some military and technocrats from civil society, who are willing , able and capable could do the trick. Irrespective of its form or composition, any external “package deal” requires teeth. It should not be yet another compromise similar to the Tayef or Doha accords, in order not to perpetuate the rule of the Kleptocrats, and contaminate the process. Any such formation cannot be without the prerequisite of the resolutions of the de-facto “rule “ of Hezbollah and its allies, and the issues of missiles and arms. The Kleptocrats would surely not accept this solution as they would be eventually held accountable. A “stick” or a carrot “pay and leave” solution, or a combination thereof, could be considered but should not be done at the expense of fair justice.
The Maronite Patriarch Rai’s recent call for a Neutral Lebanon initiative would definitely spare Lebanon the exposure to the regional whirlwinds and sideline it from the perpetual conflicts. The Patriarch has finally woken up. He who has been Patriarch since 2011, has been absent without leave for a while, and has intentionally or unintentionally been complicit in covering the Free Patriotic Movement. The FPM’s under the guise of protecting the rights of Christians in the region, in turn, covered back-to-back the Hezbollah and its “legitimized pirating” of the State. The Lebanese hope that the Patriarch’s initiative is not too-little-too-late, as tragedy has already struck. This “neutral” move is mainly supported by the “14 of March” camp, who in some part did partake over the years in preceding governments and therefore complicit in the systemic corruption, led by the “institutionalized warlords”.
The Patriarch Rai has finally woken up. He who has been Patriarch since 2011, has been absent without leave for a long while and has intentionally or unintentionally been complicit in covering the Free Patriotic Movement partnership with Hezbollah
Neutrality should not only be external but should also be a prerequisite in any government formation. Any candidate for any public position should be “neutral” in the sense that the candidate did not partake in “compromised” public life, or in the looting of public assets, nor took part as one of the ruling political parties, in the civil war. This wish might discount many and this is ideal and might not be achievable, as credible alternatives have not emerged. But if one is to build on solid foundations, one has to select candidates that are not corruptible and historically proven to truly abide by the standards and virtues of transparency, accountability, meritocracy and integrity among others, not to forget responsibility.
Is Lebanon to Be or Not to be?
Knowing the “macho” and “mafia” mentality, peaceful resolutions are unfortunately unlikely, subjecting Lebanon to the increasing rumors of an imminent Israeli direct attack on the unyielding Hezbollah. It is now the turn of the Shia’ to expose Lebanon to utter destruction (for the third time), as their Sunni and Maronite predecessors had done in the 50’s and 70’s. Imminent destruction can only be averted if an order by Iran is issued to stand down as part of a grand bargain, or if the Secretary General reforms the Hezbollah by-laws to truly become a Lebanese political and non -military party and folds under the Lebanese Constitution and State and surrenders its arms and missiles.
It is now the turn of the Shia’ to expose Lebanon to utter destruction (for the 3rd time), as their Sunni and Maronite predecessors had done in the 50’s and 70’s. Imminent destruction can only be averted if Hezbollah becomes a Lebanese non-military party.
Unfortunately, today Lebanon is a mere Iranian bargaining chip and could be traded at the expense of the will of the majority of the hijacked Lebanese. No one can predict the future, but let us hope that the best case scenario wins out at the end to spare the Lebanese from a series of cascading calamities and suffering.
Lebanon is a mere Iranian bargaining chip and could be traded at the expense of the will of the majority of the hijacked people. No one can predict the future, but let's hope the best case scenario wins ending the series of cascading calamities and suffering.
Is Lebanon to fall under further darkness of the "Eastern" totalitarian countries, or re-emerge as a phoenix, one more time, reborn as the leading contributor it once was, this time around based on democratic principles and stronger values?
One thing is for sure: Lebanon is quickly approaching the moment of truth.