Lebanon in the eye of the storm again
Lebanon is once again confronted with fateful choices. For the first time Saudi-Lebanese relations are going through rough seas, heralding further isolation for the small Middle Eastern country. The reason: Riyadh is displeased with the policies of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.
The strain adds fuel to an explosive situation, crafted by the political elite that has ruled the country since the 1989 Taif accord stopped Lebanon’s civil war.
Since the onset of the war in Syria five years ago, internal crises have piled up and divisions over Syria have grown deeper, further worsening the schism in Lebanon.
Yet, Lebanon survived, barely escaping a new cycle of civil strife reminiscent of previous crises, whose effects are visible in the country’s political, social, sectarian and doctrinal realities.
However, the current reality is very tense and bodes grave consequences, especially after Lebanon was pushed into choosing between opposite regional powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran. This reality does not exonerate any side, sect or religious community from its responsibility in reviving conditions that in the past led to strife.
Internal schisms induced by international and regional conflicts have always led the Lebanese to raise sectarian barricades coated with nationalistic slogans. Players from inside and outside the country shifted constantly and circumstances and reasons changed.
At one point, it was Western coalitions; then came the Palestinian guerrillas’ presence; after that it was Syria’s military intervention; and now the strings are being pulled by Iran. The recipe for crises has not changed but Lebanon’s immunity is at its lowest level.
On the contrary, schisms have become more destructive. The Lebanese continue to fail the tests of achieving national unity and putting in place a proper state. In fact, the Taif accord did stop the war but failed to pluck its causes, which remain like embers under the ashes.
Lebanon finds itself once again teetering on an active fault line. It is facing the toughest immunity test against its resident evils. The risk is another civil war or, worse, a sectarian war of the type ravaging other countries in the region.
While some are happy to talk about the Lebanese miracle of avoiding the flames of the Syria war after Hezbollah’s military involvement, the fact is that prevailing stability is due to two factors: an international security umbrella and a popular refusal to repeat the bitter experiences of the past whose memories are fresh in people’s minds.
It is indeed thanks to those two factors that Lebanon did not contract the Syrian virus. But now that the war in Syria has reached a critical turn, which provoked a Saudi mobilisation, Lebanon received a first warning in the form of Saudi Arabia suspending military and police aid worth $4 billion.
Lebanon is approaching the danger zone. So far, the punishment has been financial but what if it becomes worse?
The desirable scenario is for the Saudi-led axis and the Iran-led axis to continue to coexist peacefully in Lebanon. Is this possible?
Saudi Arabia is “fully determined” and also rather powerful. Underestimating it will be a fatal political error.
At the same time, Riyadh would be making a gross error by underestimating its adversaries.
Nonetheless, Lebanon does not want to be swept by fear nor believe that war is looming and that some Lebanese have become nostalgic for the era of barricades.
Beware, the temple is resting on cardboard pillars.