Official silence in Lebanon after US strike on Syria

Sunday 16/04/2017
Eerie silence. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri (L) speaks with EU High Representative Federica Mogherini at an EU Syria conference in Brussels, on April 5. (AFP)

Beirut - It is perfectly normal to expect Lebanon to be affected by the political fallout of the US at­tack on al-Shayrat airfield in Syria. Most analyses consider the attack a catalyst for a likely Russian-Iranian pact and a blow to efforts towards settling the Syrian crisis.

In Lebanon, reactions to the US strike were contradictory. News of the strike set social media pages of people from various political par­ties and orientations ablaze but of­ficial political circles observed an incongruous, deafening silence. The government and the parlia­ment were busy discussing oil and electricity, election law and the budget.

Assem Qanso, a member of par­liament from the Lebanese Ba’ath Party, said: “US President Donald Trump’s stand on the Palestinian cause and other Arab causes was vague except for his direct bias to­wards Israel, which convinced him to adopt anti-Syrian stands.”

Appealing to his experience as a medical doctor, MP Assem Araji from the Future Party parliamen­tary bloc asserted that “the weapon used on civilians in Khan Sheik­houn is chemical without a doubt. All the symptoms on the victims confirm that.”

Given that fact, “the new US ad­ministration under Trump, which has always trumpeted its inten­tion to change [former President Barack] Obama’s legacy, had to react quickly and violently,” Araji said.

Araji said he feared “a new mi­gration wave of Syrian refugees es­pecially to the Bekaa area.” He also said that Iran is likely to escalate the situation in Lebanon and might “push the country towards a parlia­mentary crisis after it had caused a presidential crisis, which had last­ed for two-and-a-half years. Con­tinuing to block the new election law is part of the campaign calling for a constitutional convention.”

For Araji, if the plan for a consti­tutional convention becomes a re­ality “all red lines would have been crossed… Those refusing the plan will have no choice but to fight it by any means necessary.” He said tensions created by the US strike should not “hinder the path of set­tlements in Lebanon and lure Hez­bollah towards creating conditions favourable for a constitutional con­vention, which incidentally will not be in its best interest.”

Araji invited Hezbollah to revisit Lebanon’s history and not to over­estimate its capacity to influence political decisions in the country. Even if the party succeeds in con­trolling national decisions, “such control will only be temporary and transient,” Araji continued.

Hareth Sleiman, a professor at the Lebanese University, said the fallout from the US strike “will de­pend on Iran’s reaction to the strike because it seems that there were Iranian elements stationed at al- Shayrat airfield.

“The intended escalation seems to be directed against Iran and not the Russians because the Russians do not wish to get into a confron­tation with the Americans and vice versa.”

Sleiman pointed out that an Ira­nian reaction will spare Lebanon because there are no US interests to target there. If Iran is planning a reaction, it is likely to take place in Iraq, where there are about 6,000 US soldiers, or in Syria.

He said talk about stability and settlements in Lebanon is “one as­pect of the efforts to veil Hezbol­lah’s total domination of public af­fairs in Lebanon. The prospects of an escalation are meaningless be­cause no one really wishes to con­front Hezbollah and Hezbollah, in turn, does not wish to make things difficult for itself.”

Sleiman dismissed analyses con­cluding that Iran’s reaction might push Hezbollah to insist on a con­stitutional convention in Lebanon. He said: “Hezbollah does not need to rely on a constitutional conven­tion because all of Lebanon’s active security agencies are functioning according to its agenda. The same applies to the military court and in­telligence services.”

Political analyst Lokman Slim refuted the hypotheses that the US action in Syria is part of an Ameri­can strategy to shuffle cards in Syria. He said it is too early to draw any conclusions about its conse­quences, pointing out that “as long as the resistance axis remains si­lent, things should not go beyond the level of learning lessons.”

He said: “To hit al-Shayrat air­field near Homs, the American mis­siles must have crossed Lebanese airspace. Nobody could turn them back nor did the missiles need a visa. Some Lebanese might have been elated by having US missiles fly over their heads.”

The remarkable silence of the Lebanese political leadership is “a sign of a crisis among the Sunni and Christian leaderships in par­ticular,” he said.