Without neutrality, Lebanon has no future

Hassan Diab should resign, because tendering his resignation would be the only service he could offer Lebanon.
Tuesday 21/07/2020
A Lebanese protester holds a placard endorsing UN Resolution 1559, which calls for the disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, during a sit-in against Hezbollah and Iran, July 14, in Beirut. (AFP)
A Lebanese protester holds a placard endorsing UN Resolution 1559, which calls for the disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, during a sit-in against Hezbollah and Iran, July 14, in Beirut. (AFP)

With a Hezbollah government headed by Hassan Diab, and a president who owes his presence in Baabda Palace to Hezbollah, it is only natural that Lebanon finds itself neck-deep in its current crisis.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s problem is quite simple, really. He thinks he’s smart and that he can fool the Lebanese people by saying things like his government is “not a Hezbollah government.” If this weren’t the case, would he have called for a national dialogue about Lebanon’s “neutrality” immediately after meeting with Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai?

Anyone calling for a national dialogue on neutrality in Lebanon must really be ignorant of the obvious fact that Lebanon was founded on the idea of “​neutrality” and joined the League of Arab States insisting on its “neutrality”; in other words it refused to take sides with any axes vying for supremacy at that time. Certainly, Lebanon is not neutral when it comes to Israel and is in this matter simply committed to the Arab consensus. That is why it boycotted Egypt when the latter had signed a peace treaty with Israel, because most Arab states had done so. As soon as Arab states accepted Egypt back into the Arab League, Lebanon did the same.

This happened when people willing to gamble with Lebanon and the Lebanese came along and effectively confined the military conflict with Israel in the post-1967-war era to a front called southern Lebanon. For a long time, Palestinians exploited this front, then it was soon exploited in 1982 and onwards by the Syrian regime, with understandings with Iran. And here we are now, having reached the stage where all of Lebanon is under Iranian tutelage.

It has happened in stages, starting in 2005 when the Syrian army was forced to withdraw from Lebanon. Iran’s control of Lebanon culminated in reaching a specific balance of forces inside Lebanon. Under this new balance of powers, and thanks to the constant threat of its weapons, Hezbollah is the one and only party that decides who the Christian president should be and who the Sunni prime minister should be.

This view goes a long way in explaining Diab’s statements after meeting with the Maronite patriarch in the latter’s summer residence at Diman. Diab said that will not resign because there is no alternative to him. Yes, no one can replace him because Hezbollah does not want him to resign. So, talking about any other side issue is really a waste of time. Everyone in Lebanon and outside Lebanon knows this simple reality, including Hezbollah itself. But only Diab seems oblivious to it even though he is the one closest to it.

If Diab were independent and had the freedom to decide, he would have asked why Hezbollah's intervention in Syria does not require a national dialogue. Can any sane official in Lebanon not see the cost of Hezbollah's participation in a war waged by a minority regime against its own people for over nine years now? Are we to believe that any official with the least level of logical thinking cannot see that Hezbollah has become an extremely divisive issue in Lebanon and that there is complete consensus about the illegitimacy of the group's weapons? These weapons are in the end but an expression of the desire of certain regional parties to keep Lebanon governed by the mini-state established by Iran in Lebanon.

Some humility is required on the part of Diab and President Michel Aoun. In their case, it means that they have to seriously consider the recommendations made by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in his message to Aoun, which was conveyed by Egyptian Ambassador to Lebanon Yasser Alawi. Sisi was responding to Aoun’s letter of May 2020. According to some sources, President Sisi made three recommendations: Lebanon must first undertake reforms, then it must resort to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and finally it must steer clear of tensions in the region.

In other words, Lebanon must defend its interests instead of sinking deeper and deeper in the tensions in the region and the world. These are tensions and conflicts that Lebanon can never impact, except of course through the military role that Hezbollah can play as an Iranian tool in Syria and elsewhere, for example.

In short, Lebanon should stay away from anything that might close all of its possible exits from its current difficult economic crisis.

It is unfortunate that Diab, whose government did not take any step of any kind, neither in the context of making the needed reforms nor in the context of pulling the country out of its economic crisis, prefers to cover up his political impotence by commenting the words of the Maronite patriarch about “neutrality."  If there should be any criticism directed at al-Rai, it would be for coming out late with raising the issue of “neutrality." Al-Rai also raised another extremely important issues: “dismantling the siege” of “legitimacy” in Lebanon, i.e. Hezbollah's siege of the state institutions. What is certain now is that al-Rai is not like Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, who decided early not to engage in any controversy about Lebanon’s constants.

Without neutrality, Lebanon, which currently finds itself lost at sea, has no future. Without neutrality, no one will come to Lebanon’s aid. In its current political conditions, Lebanon can forget about Arab countries and about America. It can forget about Europe, which is going through its own economic tough times. It can also forget about China for obvious reasons. Even though China has significant economic ties with Iran, there are no incentives for Chinese companies to invest in Lebanon. Why should they invest in a broke country shunned by Arab and international visitors? Perhaps one day Chinese investments may start flowing but it would be at a premium price. This is quite known about the Chinese.

Diab should resign, because tendering his resignation would be the only service he could offer Lebanon. It is coming anyways if he really believes that his government is not Hezbollah’s and that all this talk about it being “Hezbollah’s government” sounds like a “broken record,” to use his own terms. Only his resignation can provide decisive proof that he is really independent as he claims to be and that his government is not Hezbollah’s. But above all, his resignation would mean that the Lebanese must actually shoulder their responsibilities and find ways of ensuring their “neutrality” before anything else.