An Emirati opportunity for Lebanon

Perhaps Iran’s hegemony is part of what is motivating the UAE to support Lebanon in the delicate circumstances it is going through.
Saturday 12/10/2019
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri attends the UAE-Lebanon Investment Forum in Abu Dhabi, UAE, October 7. (Reuters)
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri attends the UAE-Lebanon Investment Forum in Abu Dhabi, UAE, October 7. (Reuters)

The United Arab Emirates wants to help Lebanon. This is what transpired from Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s visit to Abu Dhabi at the head of a large delegation of cabinet ministers, senior officials, businessmen and representatives of sectors concerned with reviving the Lebanese economy.

The United Arab Emirates has always been supportive of Lebanon. Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese citizens have been allowed to work and live in the Emirates. Whenever humanitarian and political circumstances in Lebanon called for it, the United Arab Emirates has not hesitated, since the time of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, to go to Lebanon’s rescue.

What better proof of that than the United Arab Emirates’ participation in the demining operations of southern Lebanon plus the many hospitals and clinics built by the United Arab Emirates in Lebanon?

There has never been any discrimination by the United Arab Emirates against this Lebanese community or the other or in favour of one region at the expense of another. In 1976, the United Arab Emirates was part of the Arab deterrent forces sent to Lebanon by the Arab League to enable the country to regain stability after the 2-year war. It was unfortunate that those Arab forces were replaced by Syrian troops because Syria then began its occupation of Lebanon.

People may also recall the United Arab Emirates’ role in supporting the Lebanese Army in the battle at Nahr al-Bared Camp in the summer of 2007 against the “Fatah al-Islam” gang sent by Syria. The United Arab Emirates takes partial credit for the Lebanese Army’s victory in that battle and for understanding the dangers represented by having a Palestinian camp in northern Lebanon rebel against Lebanese authorities in the service of both Syrian and Iranian objectives.

Who can remember what Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said at the time? Didn’t he say that Nahr al-Bared was a “red line” not to be crossed, meaning that Fatah al-Islam should be left free to control the camp?

We must admit it was Lebanon’s fault if relations between it and the United Arab Emirates went sour. We must also note that it was the doing of a specific Lebanese party that had engaged in anti-Emirati activities in the service of Iran. That party is Hezbollah, whose aim is to isolate Lebanon from its Arab environment so it can be gulped by Iran.

The United Arab Emirates bypassed abuses that it had been and continues to be subjected to. It shows great understanding of Lebanon’s circumstances and comes forward to help it, based this time, however, on a new and modern vision of international relations.

This vision is based on pursuing bilateral interests rather than on handing out gifts and donations, as was the case in the past. The Emirati aid comes in the form of Emirati-Lebanese joint ventures that provide jobs for the Lebanese and benefit the United Arab Emirates at the same time. These include investments in the United Arab Emirates’ food security using Lebanon as a platform and in the energy sector as well as, of course, gas exploration off the Lebanese coast.

Clearly, the United Arab Emirates’ desire to support Lebanon through Hariri’s visit, which had taken several months of serious preparation, poses challenges to Lebanon. At the forefront of these challenges is whether Lebanon can live up to the Emirates’ modern approach to international cooperation.

The lifting the Emirati ban on travelling to Lebanon is the first step that marks a new stage in Emirati-Lebanese relations. For sure, the Emiratis will not be returning to Lebanon in the same way as they did in the past. They will not be investing in Lebanon overnight and they will not be buying apartments, as they did in the recent past.

Most important, they will not be placing their money in Lebanese banks, at a time when the country is experiencing a liquidity crisis and a shortage of dollars in its markets.

But they will eventually return, little by little.

Nevertheless, the United Arab Emirates is familiar with Lebanon’s circumstances and the complexities of its internal affairs and is aware that Hezbollah is in the government now and that it has become a “regional” issue. It knows that there exist in Lebanon people who are resisting Iranian colonialism that is seeking to turn Lebanon into an integral part of its “axis of resistance.”

The United Arab Emirates has done nothing but good for Lebanon. Can Lebanon live up to the challenges created by Hariri’s visit to Abu Dhabi? This is the question that arises after the visit because the challenges come at a time when it is difficult to talk about a coherent internal situation in Lebanon where bold reforms are needed more than ever to avoid a major economic collapse.

The United Arab Emirates knows that many Lebanese have nothing but love and appreciation for it and that they consider it their second homeland. They were and they continue to be part of its progress.

Perhaps the United Arab Emirates’ long experience, and especially Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan’s experience, in dealing with the Iranian foe will help it understand what is going on in Lebanon.

Since 1971, since the days of the shah, Iran has been occupying three Emirati islands: Lesser Tunb, Greater Tunb and Abu Musa. After the fall of the shah, nothing has changed in Iran’s ambitions over the region. Iran continues to refuse any negotiations on the three UAE islands.

The United Arab Emirates has adopted its own approach to confronting Iran by refusing to surrender to the fait accompli that Iran is trying to impose. The Emirati government does not miss any international opportunity to affirm its sovereignty over its islands. Perhaps Iran’s hegemony is part of what is motivating the United Arab Emirates to support Lebanon in the delicate circumstances it is going through. It would be a contribution to countering Iran’s expansionist project in the entire region.

Hariri’s visit to Abu Dhabi was a valuable opportunity for Lebanon but will Lebanon take advantage of it or will Hezbollah and its Iranian backers shoot it down?